Mildred Dresselhaus and Solid State Pedagogy at MIT
Time & Location
About the Event
Talk by Dr. Joe Martin, Teaching Associate at the Faculty of History and Philosophy of Science
When Mildred Spiewak Dresselhaus passed away in February 2017, she left behind an indelible legacy. The “Queen of Carbon” pioneered the physical study of the sixth element well before the keen attention attracted by fullerenes and nanotubes, she earned plaudits for her advocacy on behalf of women in science, and she exerted influence on the direction of American physics through numerous professional leadership roles. Here, I focus on a less noted (though no less noteworthy) aspect of her legacy: her influence as a pedagogue.
This talk explores two avenues through which Dresselhaus’s teaching opens new perspectives on the history of twentieth-century physics. The first probes the personal experiences that informed Dresselhaus’s pedagogy, revealing how they shaped the convictions of a successful and much-lauded teacher. The second situates the solid state physics course Dresslhaus taught at MIT within the pedagogical practices of physics in postwar America, revealing some of the strategies committed teachers could employ to combat the dog-eat-dog, shut-up-and-calculate environment that prevailed as the population of physics students boomed after World War II. Together, these parallel stories help us think about why we teach physics the way we do.