My name is Shoshi Dresselhaus-Cooper, and the speeches and reflections on this digital publication were gathered, transcribed, and edited by me. Most of the photos were scanned, assembled, and digitized by me. To use or reproduce any of the photos in this publication, please contact me by email.
When I was in 8th grade, around the turn of the century, my English teacher assigned us to “research anything, talk to people in the field and visit their work/lab.” I chose to research an everyday word that I’d heard thrown around the house for the last 10 years: carbon nanotubes.
I remember going off to Stanford University and doing a lot of independent research to track down a carbon nanotube specialist. I remember my mother laughing a lot as I agonized over where to find people who specialized in carbon. It never occurred to me to tell anyone why I was interested or who my grandmother was. Grandma Millie was just my grandma. Why would there be anything special about that?
A very kind professor offered to speak to me — cute little 8th grade kid that I was — and give me a tour. At the end, I remember him asking me, “So, out of curiosity, why did you to choose to research carbon nanotube?”
“Oh, my grandma studies them,” I said. “I’ve heard the word around the house for most of my life, and wanted to know what they were.”
“Who’s your grandmother?” he asked. “I’ll look her up.”
The professor did a double take. “Millie Dresselhaus?” he checked. “The Millie Dresselhaus?”
I looked over at my mom, confused. Was there another Millie Dresselhaus? Why was I getting this reaction?
“Forget the tour you just saw,” he told me, taking out another key. “Hang on. Let me give you the real tour!”
I will never forget what I saw on that tour. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It was the first time I saw an electron microscope, along with numerous other lab equipment that no 8th grader had ever been shown before. At some point, the professor turned to me and asked, “why are you asking me about carbon? Why aren’t you asking your grandmother?”
Once the tour was over, I remember standing outside the car, hugging my notebook to my chest, and asking my mom — in a disbelieving voice — “Is Grandma famous?”
My mom didn’t even answer. She just burst out laughing.
This was my introduction to the world of Grandma Millie. She was larger than life and had done incredible and fantastic things — but she was still humble enough to just be ‘grandma’. As I grew older, I learned more and more from her. She used to call me the ‘family historian’, and we often spoke about our plans to write a book together, with input from her friends and collaborators, about her life and her impact.
My grandmother passed away unexpectedly before that plan could come to fruition.
That is why, when the MIT Millie Memorial Committee proposed publishing the proceedings from the Millie Memorial, I jumped at the chance. I felt I owed it to Grandma Millie to gather recollections from all her friends and students and collaborators, and use them to tell the story of her life.
Of course, there were complications. The committee was concerned that speakers would not have enough time to write out their speeches. I proposed a solution — record everything, and transcribe those recorded speeches at the end. I thought this would be easy. I soon learned I was wrong.
Often speakers were rushed for time. A few looked back and realized they’d misspoken. Some of the international speakers were concerned that their unfamiliarity with the language might interfere with their message.
Therefore, I reached out to the speakers and gave them a chance to add to their presentations and tell me how they wanted their transcripts changed. Some speakers wanted me to edit more than others. Some people wanted their speeches verbatim, and I complied with their wishes. For others (my mother, for example), I wound up sitting down with them and talking through what they wanted to say, then writing up the results for them. Most were somewhere in between.
For the MRS presentations, I also added in explanations and clarifications of some of the science, so that scientists who specialize in other disciplines can still read and understand these talks. Where a visual aid might be helpful, I drew in little cartoons to help others visualize the physics.
But I wanted to do more than this. I reached out to others who had not gotten a chance to speak, and invited them to send us additional written reflections on Millie. These written works became the “Reflections on the Life of Millie Dresselhaus” section of the publication (which I combined with the Unveiling Ceremony speeches). I helped those who were concerned that their English skills might not be up to the task, and made every reflection special.
My hope is that other friends will send in their own written reflection and photos, allowing the Reflections section to grow over time. That way, we can really get the full story of Millie’s life from all perspectives.
Of course, the other thing I did was add in additional photos of Millie — across the entire website.
The photos. Oh, the photos! I can’t write a reflection of what I did to immortalize the Millie Memorial without mentioning the hours and hours I spent searching Millie’s office and home for photos, slides, and negatives. I spent so many hours scanning everything, then fixing torn photos or blemished slides, color correcting faded colors, attempting to separate negatives that had stuck together, etc. Then I dumped out all my family’s photos (kept in shoeboxes), and sorted through them to look for our photos of Millie. Then I searched through Millie’s email inbox for additional photos that people had sent to her. I even used the Way Back Machine to look for old conference photos that had since been taken down from the internet.
I wound up with a treasure trove of Millie photos, full of people I could sometimes identify and sometimes not, from across her entire life. Some I don’t hold the rights to (as they were published in other magazines or newspapers), but I wanted to share the ones I do hold the rights to, simply so I could share Millie with the world.
I added many of the photos I discovered to people’s presentations, in every section. And I have still more that I have yet to publish! Millie did so many things, and so many amazing pictures have surfaced as a result.
A few students and collaborators still do not have photos of themselves and Millie. This is a shame. I will continue to raid my relatives’ attics for pictures, in the hopes that I can find some.
Overall, I’m grateful that my family gave me this chance to transcribe and edit the Millie Memorial and the additional written reflections. I learned a lot of science and a lot about the different aspects of Millie’s life — many of which I (as a granddaughter) did not see. I hope that my work on this publication has helped to shed some light on my grandmother’s life and the impact she had on others.
One final thought.
I know people will ask me, “But Shoshi, what happened to that gigantic timeline you created of Millie’s life, which hung at the memorial?”
The timeline is in my house, stored and safe. A digital version has been created, including everyone’s comments. I have yet to figure out how to publish it, due to its gigantic size. Perhaps, some day, I will find a way to do so.