Who is Millie Dresselhaus? Queen of Carbon Science and Star of GE Commercial


Despite the recent death of Millie Dresselhaus, we continue to see her legacy every day in science and on our TV screens whenever the General Electric commercial comes on.

The spot reveals a few things about her — but the inspirational commercial only scrapes the surface of her extraordinary life.

Dresselhaus was a New York native, and grew up humbly in the Bronx — sometimes barely getting by. She had an extensive educational background at Hunter College (undergraduate), University of Cambridge (postgraduate), Radcliffe College (MA), University of Chicago (PhD) and Cornell University (postdoc).

Dresselhaus broke a glass ceiling in 1968 when she was the first woman to become a full-time professor at M.I.T., and she continued to pave the way for other women to do the same. Aside from teaching physics and electrical engineering, Dresselhaus was awarded at least 25 different awards in her field, often the first or second woman ever to receive the honors. She also organized the first Women’s Forum at M.I.T. to explore the roles of women in science.

She had roles on the board of science societies, twice being the first female the have that position. According to those who knew her, she was straightforward and made being a female at M.I.T. seem “effortless.”

Dresselhaus received the name “queen of carbon science” for her extensive work with carbon and more specifically, what happens when carbon is combined with other materials. She published more than 1,700 scientific papers, co-wrote eight books and gathered too many accolades to count.

Unfortunately, Dresselhaus died Feb. 20 of this year in Cambridge. Despite her death, her legacy lives on in the science world, at M.I.T., where women now make up 22 percent of the faculty — and inside our TVs.

Just before her death, GE unveiled a heartwarming commercial during the Oscars that increased her popularity from the science world to TV viewers. The commercial asked the question “What if female scientists were treated like celebrities?”

The commercial starts with a little girl getting a Millie Dresselhaus doll and continues with kids and adults alike dressing like her, having numerous kids named after her, being featured on talk shows and followed by paparazzi.

The commercial states GE’s goal is to have 20,000 women in tech roles by 2020.

So next time you’re watching TV and see Millie for the 100th time — hopefully this will add some insight.

[image via screengrab]


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