Dr. Millie Dresselhaus: One in ten million scientist, amazing violin player, but so much more than that

Marcie Black (undergrad and grad student 1997-2003) reflects on her memories of Millie as her academic advisor and her personal friend.
by Marcie Black
Apr 13, 2018chevron-down
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Dr. Millie Dresselhaus: One in ten million scientist, amazing violin player, but so much more than that
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Dr. Marcie R. Black
MGM – 1998-2003

1990 - Millie became my academic advisor my freshman year at MIT

I had no idea how famous she was.  To me, she was someone that knew MIT, cared about my success at MIT, and gave me advice on classes.

One memorable moment from undergrad was when I was particularly upset about the stresses of MIT life, she pulled out a box of cookies.  We ate cookies, and figured out what I should be taking next term.

I didn’t realize till much later how fortunate I was to have a caring advisor.

1997 - I returned to MIT with a focus on electronic materials and a way to solve the energy crisis. Millie’s work in carbon nanotubes and in particular hydrogen storage inside carbon nanotubes was particularly interesting to me. I stopped by her office and to my surprise both Laura and Millie remembered me from undergrad!

August 2013, played violin for my daughter who was interested in violin
August 2013, played violin for my daughter who was interested in violin

I picked up a handful of papers to read. Without a strong physics background I didn’t understand 90% of the papers. When I went back to tell Millie that I wish I could work with her, but I didn’t have the background she said that no one has all of the background that they need to work in her group. She would make sure I could catch up.

6.732 – OH 6.732.  Buried in physics, thinking in k-space, Hamiltonians.  I know I needed help catching up.  I started asking LOTS of questions in class.  Millie decided to hold an optional recitation in the middle of the night – 8 AM.  I think she knew I would be the only one there.  EVERY week she had a full recitation prepared that I believe was geared towards what I needed to learn.  I was the only student present.  After an hour every week for a semester, solid state physics became intuitive to me.

1997-2003 - Every Friday evening – “See you Sunday!”

2000 – While Millie was the Director of the Office of Science at DOE, she met with each student every week when she returned to Boston for the weekends.

Millie joined us at a family event and met my whole family and celebrated my daughter turning 13 with us.
Millie joined us at a family event and met my whole family and celebrated my daughter turning 13 with us.

2000 – My parents were in another state, and I didn’t have money to visit them often, so Millie, Gene, and Laura became my home away from home.  Thanksgivings at Millie’s house, meeting my future husband, checking in on me regularly.

2000 – My parents wanted to meet this important person in my life, and so when Millie was getting an honorary degree at OSU, my mother, father, and Millie went out to dinner to meet!

2001 - A very tough period in my life.  Millie understood, and never once pushed me to get results in this time.

2001-2003 – marriage, growing family- discussions of how a woman can have a career that we both take great joy in and a family that we also find important.

2003-2006 – I was at Los Alamos National Laboratory and busy raising my infant daughter.  Millie regularly reached out to me to see how I was doing.

2006 – Founded my first company, Bandgap Engineering based on a scientific invention that Millie and I discovered while doing my PhD.  Millie became an active advisor and was a member of our technical advisory board.

2007 – I moved back to Boston and was able to meet in person with Millie occasionally.  She continued to advise me regularly on my work, my company, my children, and my career.

As evidence that her students were an extended part of her family, the back of her office door was filled with pictures of children of her students including one of my daughter Rhea.

Millie continued to keep me involved in collaboration with her.  I often wonder if she felt this was important to me to allow me to return to a more academic career if I ever choose to do so.

The Dresselhaus’s got to know my family including both my children.

When my daughter was just starting violin lessons, Millie came over with her violin and played a duet with Carol for our family.

Sharing holiday dinners together.

Sharing challenges and joys of our careers and families and our journey through life.

Work hard, put people first, be the best you can be, and strive to me the world a better place.

February 9th, 2017 – Millie didn’t email me back.  After a few hours, I already knew something was wrong.  She always returned emails within an hour.

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