Featured Book: Carbon Queen

Maia Weinstock celebrates the life of trailblazing physicist and MIT icon Mildred Dresselhaus, who expanded our understanding of the physical world

As a girl in New York City in the 1940s, Mildred “Millie” Dresselhaus was taught that there were only three career options open to women: secretary, nurse, or teacher. But sneaking into museums, purchasing three-cent copies of National Geographic, and devouring books on the history of science ignited in Dresselhaus a passion for inquiry. 

Cover of Carbon Queen

In Carbon Queen, science writer Maia Weinstock describes how, with curiosity and drive, Dresselhaus defied expectations and forged a career as a pioneering scientist and engineer. Dresselhaus made highly influential discoveries about the properties of carbon and other materials and helped reshape our world in countless ways—from electronics to aviation to medicine to energy. She was also a trailblazer for women in STEM and a beloved educator, mentor, and colleague.

“Born Mildred Spiewak in Brooklyn to Polish and Dutch immigrants, Dresselhaus didn’t have an easy childhood, but her curiosity, willingness to work hard, and ability to relate to others, along with her musical prowess, opened doors,” Publishers Weekly writes in a starred review of the book.

Those doors led Dresselhouse to mentors like Nobel Prize–winning physicists Rosalyn Yalow and Enrico Fermi and, eventually, to become one of the first female professors at MIT, where she would spend nearly six decades. In Carbon Queen, Weinstock explores the basics of Dresselhaus's work in carbon nanoscience, accessibly and engagingly describing how she identified key properties of carbon forms, including graphite, buckyballs, nanotubes, and graphene, leading to applications that range from lighter, stronger aircraft to more energy-efficient and flexible electronics. Carbon Queen offers “a striking portrait of a brilliant mind,” according to Publishers Weekly. “This is a fascinating introduction to a game-changing figure.”

“Millie was nothing less than a hero to many, in her home country and around the world,” Weinstock writes in Carbon Queen. “The story of her life provides insights into the workings of an ever-expanding mind, the ongoing evolution of societal attitudes toward women and people of color in science and engineering, and the unique power of kindness.”

Carbon Queen in the media:

  • Maia Weinstock is taking part in an authors@MIT event with the MIT Libraries on Thursday, March 24 at 4pm ET.
    Learn more about the event and register
  • Science Friday mentioned Carbon Queen as a book to look out for in 2022.
    The Best Science Books Of 2021
  • Physics World reviewed the book. They wrote that “Weinstock does more than tell the story of a brilliant scientist’s life; she transports you into a world of curiosity and wonder, driven by enthusiasm and persistence.”
    Mildred Dresselhaus: a giant of nanoscience
  • An excerpt from Carbon Queen appeared in Engadget about the charge carrier placement in graphite.
    Hitting the Books: How Mildred Dresselhaus' research proved we had graphite all wrong
  • Booklist published a starred review of the book; they called Carbon Queen “an exceptional biography showcasing the achievements of a brilliant scientist who broadened the range of the possible for women.”
  • A Q&A with the author ran in The MIT Technology Review.
    Exploring the nanoworld
  • Carbon Queen was featured in a New Scientist round-up of can’t-miss new media.
    Don't miss: The live launch of NASA's latest environmental satellite
  • Publishers Weekly wrote a starred review of Carbon Queen, calling the book a “striking portrait.”
    Nonfiction Book Review: Carbon Queen: The Remarkable Life of Nanoscience Pioneer Mildred Dresselhaus by Maia Weinstock
  • Carbon Queen is a true delight: a powerful story, perfectly told, which is equal parts inspiring and informative. Weinstock's words effortlessly capture Dresselhaus's enthusiasm, tenacity, and genius. A fitting tribute to a scientific legend.”
    Jess Wade, Imperial College London; author of Nano: The Spectacular Science of the Very (Very) Small
  • “Maia Weinstock's Carbon Queen is a strong introduction to the inspired path of Dr. Millie Dresselhaus, an extraordinary genius whose leadership opened doors, especially for women, and whose discoveries impact all of our lives today.”
    Megan Smith, 3rd US Chief Technology Officer, 2014–2017; shift7 founder and CEO

Learn more about Carbon Queen