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An Inspiration, a Great Scientist, a Role Model, and a Colleague

Mauricio Terrones talks about his memories of Millie and of the time he had to tell her, in the middle of a conference, that she had won the Kavli Prize.

Published onJun 28, 2018
An Inspiration, a Great Scientist, a Role Model, and a Colleague

Mauricio Terrones
Millie’s Research In Carbon Session, MIT Memorial

Photo credit: Shoshi Dresselhaus-Cooper

Thank you. Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak here.

First of all, I want to share some of images of Millie with you. Here, you can see her through her career. Of course, she’s always got a beautiful smile — and she was always very polite. Even when she wanted to say something not so good, she always said it very politely. But she still expected you to understand, in the end, what she meant and whether she was happy with you or not.

Let me tell you a story. I don’t know how many of you know this, but it’s absolutely a true story. Gene, maybe you remember this one? It’s a story about the Kavli prize announcement.

Millie and I were in DC, doing to a 2D workshop: Beyond Graphene. It was a giant workshop organized with the NSF and the Air Force. Many prestigious scientists were there, including Millie.

At every conference, Millie always sits front and center. Photo courtesy of the Carbon 2008 Conference

Now, one thing about Millie is that, in every conference, Millie always sits in the first row.  This was no exception — Millie was seated at the front, in a seat on the far right of the auditorium, taking notes.  I, meanwhile, was on the exact opposite side of the auditorium.

Before I continue, I should just let you know — earlier that morning, Millie mentioned to me that she was having trouble with her iPad.  “It doesn’t connect to the network,” she told me. “I don’t know why. I cannot check my emails. Can you can help me after the break?”

And I had said to her, “Yeah, sure, Millie.  We can work on that during the break.”

So, anyway, back to the talk!  We were sitting on diametrically opposed sides of the auditorium, as I’ve mentioned before.  So during the talk, I opened my email — which I shouldn’t have done. But I did it, anyway.

When I did so, I noticed there was an urgent email dated May 31, 2012, from Gene. The subject was “Millie Prize in Nanoscience.” I opened it and found a frantic email from Gene, who had been unable to get in touch with Millie because of the iPad problem.  Gene wrote:

“Mauricio, please get Millie to phone Norway, immediately! She has been awarded the nanoscience prize by the Norwegian Academy of Science. Worth one million US dollars.”

So at that point, we were right in the middle of the talks. In fact, we’d just started the first of a session of talks.  But Gene had told me that I had to tell Millie right away! So I sucked up my pride and ignored the strange looks people were giving me, and I began to slowly, chair by chair, move across the auditorium.  Every time a chair opened up, I’d snag it! Eventually, I reached the seat next to Millie’s, on the other side of the auditorium. I showed her my iPhone, and Millie turned to me and whispered, “Oh. What should I do?”

“Millie, I think we should step outside and phone Norway, because they want to announce it, and they can’t until they reach you.”

Well, you know the rest of this story.  We stepped outside, and she used my cell phone to call the Norwegian Academy of Sciences.  And of course, she accepted the prize. She was very gracious and gave the prize money to MIT. But I just wanted to share the story of how she found out.

This is after she got the announcement. You can see this person, here, was the director of NSF  (Subra Suresh). We had this cake that we arranged.

And of course, you know the Kavli prize. And many people are came there to support her. As you can see in the image below, we have myself, Ado Jorio, Endo sensei, Saito sensei, and Jean-Christophe Charlier. We’re a bit younger. And Apparao Rao is also with us.

The image above (with Endo) is from the Carbon conference. That was in 2016 at Penn State. I remember how Millie sat in her arm chair, correcting papers.  She was always correcting papers. It was something she was really great at.

We organized the Carbon Conference. This idea came after discussing with Millie that we wanted to organize a conference unique in carbon. And then we decided to have a panel of the carbon medalists. So there were Millie, Endo-sensei, Iijima-sensei, and also Konstantin Novoselov and Andre Geim. We all sat down and had a discussion about the future of carbon. It was a very, very nice discussion that we’ll try to put online very soon. But she was very vocal, at this time, on what she felt the carbon future was.

She was always extremely vocal on science. It was interesting to see what she said on the panel.  When it’s up online, I hope you’ll all be able to see it and be inspired by her vision.

As mentioned by many people, she had different collaborations with different people all over the world. We were awarded the Sômiya Award for international collaborations. Ours was a collaboration between Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and MIT.

Millie with my brother and I at the NT04 Conference with Millie. Photo courtesy of David Tomanek

So this was back in Mexico.  You can see me and Humberto, here — he happens to be my brother and collaborator. My brother and I are a real spin pair — we’re like electrons, with spin up and spin down.  We pair off perfectly together. You can see, in the above photo, that we’re surrounded by our students. In the photo to the right, we’re in Mexico with Millie for a nanotube conference.

This is what we worked on with Millie over the years.

We worked on 2D materials, graphene, doped graphene, nanotubes, ribbons, etc. We made lots of important contributions to the field. It was a lot of fun.

So I have to thank Millie — and all these people, as well — because this collaboration was very important for us.

At some point, Humberto and I had some issues back in Mexico. Millie made our transition to the US very smooth. She helped us! She wrote very nice letters of recommendation. That’s why we’re here. If you want to know more about that, we can discuss it later. But I think I wanted to — well, let’s just say that this is the first time I’m sharing this, publicly.

My point is that Millie was there when everything happened, and she told me — I still remember — she said, “This is the first time, Mauricio, when you’re not talking about science. That means you are worried about something else.”

And she recommended to me, “You should go and look for some very good lawyers.”

That’s what I did.

On a trip to Argentina, many years ago....
At the NT09 Conference

Thank you very much. And thank you, Millie, for sharing so many moments with us. We will always miss you.

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