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The Queen Of Carbon

Inspirational chemists are not thin on the ground, nor even inspirational female chemists. Even so, it's always worth being reminded of the achievements and dedication of people to whom we owe many of the advances of the modern world.

Mildred Dresselhaus in her officeOne such person, Mildred Dresselhaus, recently won the $1m Kavli Prize in Nanoscience for her pioneering work with carbon and its fascinating properties. For this, and decades of research and advocacy, she has been nicknamed 'The Queen of Carbon'.

Dresselhaus, at 81, is still a professor at the Massachussetts Institute of Technology, and was recently interviewed and profiled in the New York Times. She talks of having her early talent for the sciences captured by good teachers in 1940s New York, and later being inspired by Rosalyn  Yaslow and Enrico Fermi.

Her work paved the way for the Nobel Prize-winning discoveries of buckminsterfullerene, and later carbon nanotubes. Presumably the recent work on graphene will also have drawn on some of Dresselhaus' carbon chemistry.

Dresselhaus has apparently long been an advocate for women in the sciences. She is the kind of role model that the European Union's poorly-received campaign to get girls into science (which Jo Buckley recently wrote about) could have instead drawn upon.

Discussing the histories of prominent scientists can be a great way into the subject matter; students and teachers together can explore the subject and the challenges it would have presented to the scientist in his or her time. Further, it reinforces the notion that scientific discovery is ongoing.

We think that personal stories and chemistry anecdotes are a great way in to this often difficult subject, so look out for more Faces of Chemistry videos, anecdotes, and the like in the coming months...
Posted by Duncan McMillan on Jul 3, 2012 5:13 PM Europe/London

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