Panel Discussion on Frontier Topics
Frontier Topics Session, MRS Memorial

Tomas Palacios: So now that we’ve all had time to digest these very interesting, exciting, and visionary talks, we now have a few minutes for questions and comments from both the speakers as well as from the audience. Maybe I can get us started by asking our speakers: you all shared the good fortune to interact very closely with Millie. All of us who were able to work with her, we’ve learned a lot of different things. I’m just curious — if you were to select one or two key lessons that you got from your interactions with Millie, what would that be? It would be great if you could please share that with all of us.

Photo credit: Marianne Dresselhaus Cooper
Photo credit: Marianne Dresselhaus Cooper

Mansour Shayegan: I guess I get to go first, because I have the microphone. Oh, and because I’m the youngest! Although… well, don’t look at the hair and take my word on it.

I think the most important lesson I learned is to pay attention to details. Some of my students are in the audience, here, and I can see one of them smiling and laughing. As my students know, I’m very picky in papers and always make sure my students pay attention to details.  I think that’s what I have learned from Millie. Corrections and making everything perfect.

Nai-Chang Yeh: I learned many, many things from Millie, but one thing I would single out is that I think she always had the most generous heart. And she was always so calm! I’ve never seen her get angry or anything. She was calm, she was patient, and she was selfless.

Nowadays, my students always ask me, “How does one become a successful scientist?”

Millie in Cordoba. Photo credit: Gene Dresselhaus
Millie in Cordoba. Photo credit: Gene Dresselhaus

I tell them, “You have to build your reservoir. But you must build it out of many different tributaries, all equally important: your knowledge — that’s one tributary; but also your heart, your generosity, and your patience — those are three others, all as important as the first.”

Millie always seemed to be so calm, but that was because she had such a huge reservoir.  When outside temperature was fluctuating, she still kept the same temperature. I always say, if you are a little droplet of water and the temperature changes, you can freeze or you can turn into vapor — both of which mean you turn into nothing. But in bulk, the water fares much better.

So overall, I really do believe it’s Millie’s calmness and the generosity of Millie’s heart that are just so important. And I learned from that. I’m still learning to build my reservoir.

Kang Wang: I think the greatest thing I learned from Millie is passion. She had a really tremendous passion for her work. And she enjoyed it!  That’s also important. Having fun — that’s the most important thing. Dedication comes from love. I think Millie really loved to do what she did, and that’s the most important thing. I learned from that, and I was inspired by it.  I love what I do. I am dedicated to what I do. That's the most important thing.

Evelyn Wang: Great. Thanks for sharing those comments. Certainly, this is a session about the frontiers of science, and we’ve heard a broad range of topics. So what’s next?

Kang Wang: The most important question is: what are we? Why are we here? And that’s really what all the topics we’ve discussed so far — in physics and chemistry and biology — have in common. In the future, the next generation of physicists, materials scientists, and engineers will continue the saga of answering these questions.  They are what Millie strove to learn, and they are what we strive to learn. But to answer those questions still takes many, many steps.

Nai-Chang Yeh: I think this is an exciting time to be alive.  A time when frontier technology and cutting edge physics are merging together!  There are a lot of wonderful things that result from that. This is a time when scientists can talk with engineers and work hard together to create new phases, new frontiers, and new technology. But of course, the most important thing is that we must continue to create new science and new physics.

Mansour Shayegan: Last night, my mother called me up to invite me to go to her Zen meditation session with her tonight.  I think if you’re looking for an answer to why humans are here, perhaps that Zen meditation session is where you’ll find it.

Lattice structure in front of Millie's notes.  Photo credit: Shoshi Dresselhaus-Cooper
Lattice structure in front of Millie's notes. Photo credit: Shoshi Dresselhaus-Cooper

But... yeah, I agree that this is an exciting time to do physics, certainly. When I was getting my degree, that was the quantum Hall era — back when 2D systems had only just come out. Now, it’s 30-some years later, with everyone trying to concentrate on our field. And I feel that much of it is now much deeper, more mature, and therefore, perhaps, less approachable for a new scientist.  On the other hand, on the materials side of things, there are so many new areas that are opening up in 2D systems! You can see how far graphene has come along in just 10 years. So I believe the future is bright. Just keep thinking.

Kang Wang: I’m so pleased to see all of Millie’s family members here.  And so, in Millie’s spirit, I believe Millie would say that fundamentals are one of the most important elements for a career, because we have so many generations that will follow on from the fundamentals we’ve built up. The expansion of basic knowledge is the most important thing.  Nothing in physics, chemistry, or biology would work without the mathematics, because you need to form the mathematical foundation to work in all the other areas.

Evelyn Wang: Great. We know it’s getting late, so maybe we’ll open the floor to a couple of questions from the audience.

Question Asker: I have a question about the Majorana fermion. So we all know that Microsoft is really serious about building a real working quantum computer based on Majoranas. I think their target is to have two qubit by next year. How close do you think the field is to having a few qubit system?

Kang Wang: This is a very tough question! The answer depends almost entirely on how much money you want to give to me.


Kang Wang: Seriously, I think that now that we’ve proven the Majorana Fermion exists, the next step is to use something like a chess board type of scheme to create many qubit. I believe it’s quite ready to go beyond a few qubit to even tens of qubit. We could even do it in the matter of just a few years, if we got enough money.  Many people would like to pursue that direction.

Question Asker: Okay, let me ask first: when do you have one qubit? Because right now, we’ve got one Majorana, but it’s not yet clear that’s a qubit.

Kang Wang: We believe in two or three years.

Question Asker: Two or three years. Okay.

Tomas Palacios: Any other questions?

Question Asker: Hi. Just a perspective: I think what Millie has done, in general, is that she’s killed the boundaries between math, physics, chemistry, and biology. She made sure that the science she pursued was really interdisciplinary.  As you mentioned, even if you’re in biology, you still need physicists, chemists, and others to help solve your problems. I think that has a huge impact. And obviously, other people have done that, too, but Millie has played a big role in promoting the interdisciplinary nature of science, I feel.  Thank you.

Tomas Palacios: Excellent. So, if there are no further questions, please thank our speakers for sharing their research and memories of Millie.

Photo courtesy of the Dresselhaus Family
Photo courtesy of the Dresselhaus Family