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Millie: One Adventure After Another

Antonio G. Souza Filho shares some of his memories of his time in Millie's group and the work they did together on carbon.

Published onFeb 21, 2018
Millie: One Adventure After Another

Antonio G. Souza Filho
Millie’s Research in Carbon Session, MIT Memorial

Photo credit: Geof Cooper

Thank you. I’m very honored to have the opportunity to share some of the memories I have of my time in Millie's group.

I arrived in Millie's group in 2000. This was a special date for the field of carbon nanotube research, because, by that time, it was possible to do and to start to do what Millie called “single carbon nanotube spectroscopy.” In 2000, that sort of work was being done by Ado Jorio — and that was precisely when I joined the group.

We had quite unique samples from Harvard University, and we could do a lot of experiments on that. Since Raman spectroscopy of carbon nanotubes has many peaks, we could develop a nice understanding of and a nice physics for each one of those peaks. That was a very productive period of time, and I have a lot of fond memories from it.  I would like to share just some of the adventures I had with Millie.

When I first arrived at MIT, my English was very bad. I had a little trouble talking to people and understanding people. But every time I sat down to discuss things with Millie, she always spoke very slowly and understandably. I greatly appreciated that, because she made herself very easy to understand.

I arrived in the beginning of December, and I remember that she told me, “Go right to the lab and start to do the experiments, and then we’ll meet again and work out the results.”  So I got started right away and got results. I was already very familiar with Raman spectroscopy, but I was not so familiar with nanotubes. But she helped me with that and we got many interesting results and a paper.

Then Millie said to me, “Let's submit your paper to APS March meeting, because the physics that you’re discussing, here, are so interesting that you’re guaranteed to get an oral talk.”

I started to get worried.  My English was still not so good. How could I ever hope to deliver an oral talk at APS? But that was one of the ways that Millie really challenged the people who worked with her. She gave them assignments that helped them go above and beyond.

It was amazing for me to hear her say that, because it gave me a message.  Millie believed in me — even more than I believed in myself.  She knew I could give this talk and be successful, and she was right!

This is a really, really amazing thing that Millie did for young people. Her belief in them helped them to become something better than they were, and it helped push them to new heights of excellence.

In the end, giving the APS talk was actually a very nice adventure, because Ado was supposed to present a paper at that same meeting, but could not come.  He was invited to a talk in Europe at the same time. But this was fine, because Millie turned to me and said, “Okay, instead of giving one talk, you are going to give two!”

These are the abstracts we did. I think that, in the end, I did a good job, and she was very proud of that. Millie was always very encouraging, though.  One thing about her: when you did something good, she'd always point and say that you did a good job and she was proud; but if you didn’t do as well as you could and your work was not very good, she'd always find a way to look at the positive side and say, “Well, you are making progress.”

So the physics I discussed in those contributions was the asymmetry between stokes and anti-stokes lines in Raman spectroscopy of carbon nanotubes. Millie edited the paper 21 times, before it was published. That was my first paper.

It was quite significant for me, because when she edited the paper, she didn’t just give me scientific input, she also was patient enough to say, “In English, you should phrase this more like this and should write that more like that.”

For me, there was a real impact in my career and in my life, as well, because I was not expecting that a scientist with such a reputation as Millie Dresselhaus was going to think too much of a visiting Brazilian student, like me. But she did, and that made a big impression on me.  It was really great for me.

Millie was always willing to help. And getting a message like this from Millie was really great.  Whenever I woke up, I’d open my email, and from time from time, I’d see Millie had emailed us all to say, “Hi, I’m at MIT.  What's there for me to do, today?”

Millie was always very devoted to her students, and she always sat us down and explained that she worked for us, not the other way around.  That's the aspect that we all really enjoyed. Her comments, her compassion, her patience — we are going to miss that a lot.

This is the last paper we wrote, together, on linear carbon chains.

And of course, the dots. I have to mention the dots!  You notice, on this paper, how there’s a huge ink blot in the middle of the page?  And evidence of others, bleeding through from pages above this?  Those are “the dots”, and they are very significant.

See, Millie was a little like superwoman.  She seemed to have limitless energy.  She was always correcting papers and giving us back her feedback very quickly.  But she was also human, and she needed sleep.  Those little dots were made when she was in the middle of editing a large stack of papers, and worked herself so hard that she drifted off to sleep in the middle of her edits.  The tip of her felt-tipped pen would remain rested on the paper, creating a big ink blot!

It was such a good message for the students, to see those ink blots, because it reminded us all just how hard she was working in service to her students.  If she had to work late into the night, she’d do so.  If she was in the middle of a trip and was jetlagged and kept drifting off, she’d still get us our papers back.

For students, Millie’s devotion to them was a very important thing.  I remember that, when Millie was awarded an honorary degree at the University in Fortaleza, the university mused, “Oh, Millie Dresselhaus, what a renowned scientist!  Does she have any special requests we can fulfill for her, during her stay?”

I told them, “Yes, she wants to meet the students.”

I was very happy that I spent one year as a visiting student at MIT. But I was even happier that Millie could attend my thesis defenses in Brazil. That was Marcos’ suggestion, over there.  He was also on the thesis committee. And also, later on, Millie attended, in Fortaleza, the thesis committee of my student Eduardo Barros.

Photo credit: Fletch

Millie introduced me to great people in science. I'm very grateful for that.

This is the picture I had of me and Millie, the last time Millie visited me in Fortaleza. We had a great meeting with many distinguished scientists such as Nobel laureates Harold Kroto and Albert Fret; and Boltzman Medalist Eugene Stanley, among others. That meeting was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first PhD thesis defense in Physics and in my university as well.

I’ll just finish by saying that we are already missing her a lot. Our dear Millie is not physically around us, anymore, but I'm sure her legacy and passion for life and science will keep motivating many people around the world in her honor. Thank you very much, Millie, for your lessons, generosity, guidance, and friendship!

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