STEM@Home: Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon

Mildred S. Dresselhaus holding a model of a carbon nanotube. Credit: Ed Quinn
Mildred S. Dresselhaus holding a model of a carbon nanotube. Credit: Ed Quinn.

Quantum theory, semi-conductors, and buckyballs – Mildred Dresselhaus, the Queen of Carbon, mastered them all. Dr. Dresselhaus used the most commonplace of materials – graphite, a form of carbon – to expand our understanding in materials science, physics, and engineering. Join ExploreHope as we celebrate Women’s History Month and be inspired by the many ground-breaking women in science!

The Life and Times of the Queen of Carbon

Mildred Dresselhaus was the child of immigrants and an early violin prodigy. Although her family was poor, Mildred earned a spot at an academically rigorous high school in New York City. There, a physics teacher and future Nobel laureate, Roslyn Yalow, helped Mildred discover a passion for science. After high schol, she earned degrees at Cambridge, Radcliffe, and the University of Chicago, before landing at MIT to begin her career.

Dr. Dresselhaus spent decades exploring the properties of graphite and graphene. She uncovered carbon’s electronic band structure, co-discovered new forms of graphene called fullerenes (or buckyballs), and demonstrated that these materials could be used as metals or semiconductors. Her work not only added knowledge to several scientific fields, but updated the equations quantum theorists used in further discoveries. Now that’s making an impact!

Because of her work, Dr. Dresselhaus became the first tenured woman faculty member at MIT as well as the first woman to receive the National Medal of Science in engineering, along with many other awards and honors. Learn more about Dr. Dresselhaus here.

Princess of Carbon: You!

Feeling inspired? Follow in Dr. Dresselhaus’ footsteps and explore the nature of carbon yourself! Dr. Dresselhaus made ground-breaking discoveries about graphite, a form of carbon. With a few simple materials, you can observe graphite’s electronic properties with a few simple materials:

  • A 9V battery
  • An LED light bulb
  • A graphite pencil (art pencils will work better than regular school pencils)
  • Tape
  • Paper.

Sketch a circuit with the graphite pencil, and you’ll create graphene – a thin layer of carbon atoms that can conduct electricity. Head over to KiwiCo to find out more!

Register Now for Hope Summer Science Camps!

Love exploring our world, inside and out? Do we have a summer camp for you! Hope Summer Science Camps has over 20 years of experience giving kids the hands-on science explorations of your dreams. Check out the Science Camps page on our website for safety updates, camp schedule, and registration links. We are excited to see you this summer!

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