Dresselhaus wins Vannevar Bush award

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March 30, 2009

The National Science Board has named Institute Professor Mildred Dresselhaus as the 2009 recipient of the Vannevar Bush award which annually recognizes an individual who, through public service activities in science and technology, has made an outstanding "contribution toward the welfare of mankind and the nation."

Vannevar Bush, for whom this award was established in 1980, was tied with MIT and the Electrical Engineering Department from his student days on--serving as an influential professor in the Department, vice president and dean of engineering at the Institute and later serving as an advisor to several U.S. presidents. Most noted for developing the public service side of science, Bush's contributions include the creation of the National Defense Research Council (NDRC) in the late 1930s, which later became the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Bush's writings "Science: The Endless Frontier" and "As We May Think" gave direction to science in relation to government, the military, and academic research centers--ultimately laying the public groundswell for creation of the National Science Foundation in 1950 and making possible the countless fruits of successive technological developments ever since.

Like Vannevar Bush, Millie Dresselhaus' career as an MIT scientist, engineer and professor grew into the public service realm with increasingly wider reach and effect. Dresselhaus, the first tenured woman professor at MIT's School of Engineering, began her career at Lincoln Laboratory studying magneto-optics--first working on semiconductors, and then expanding her studies to graphite, now one of the most promising materials in contemporary electronics.

Named an Institute Professor in 1985, Dresselhaus has repeatedly served the broader scientific community--concomitantly with her steadfast dedication to research and teaching at MIT. She served as president of the American Physical Society in 1984; first as president and then as chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in the 1990s; from 1992-1996 she served as Treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences, the first woman officer of the NAS; and, in 2000, she became the director of the Office of Science in the U.S. Department of Energy.

As noted by the MIT News Office March 9, 2009 article, Dresselhaus related that the Vannevar Bush award not only honors her, work, but that of all MIT faculty. She stated:

"Ever since I've been here -- and I've been here for my whole career -- we've been strongly influenced by service not only to MIT but the whole country; it's part of what MIT stands for, we're indoctrinated with this, and we feel good about this. It's an honor to receive this award...Vannevar Bush is somebody really special at MIT, and someone special in the nation." She added: "He is someone I see every day when I enter Building 13, the Vannevar Bush Building, where I am physically located."

Dresselhaus is cited for fitting the numerous criteria for this award including distinguished public service activities in science and technology; pioneering the exploration, charting and settlement of new frontiers in science, technology, education and public service; and demonstrating leadership and creativity that have shaped the history of advancements in science, technology and education in the United States. These criteria were met by two other members of the MIT community: former MIT presidents Jerome B. Wiesner and James R. Killian Jr., who won the Vannevar Bush award in 1992 and 1980, respectively.

Millie Dresselhaus will receive the Vannevar Bush medal at a formal ceremony on May 13 at the U.S. Department of State in Washington.

Congratulations Millie!