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Lecture highlights how nanomaterials can meet global energy needs

Mildred Dresselhaus holds model of carbon nanotube
Mildred Dresselhaus

Global energy needs are a major concern for our future. World-renowned MIT Professor Mildred Dresselhaus offers hope for the world energy outlook in her lecture “The Promise of Nanomaterials for Thermoelectric Applications” at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 26 at the Tate Laboratory of Physics, Room 150, The lecture is part of the annual Van Vleck Lecture Series. The lecture is free and open to the public. It will also be streamed live.

Thermoelectricity, in which temperature differences are directly converted to electrical voltage, has played a small role on the energy scene in the past. With the increased conversion efficiencies promised by new materials at the nano scale, however, thermoelectrics are likely to be increasingly important in the future.

Dresselhaus’s lecture will describe broad challenges of materials physics research and the specific promise of the nanomaterials that she studies. She will recount recent research breakthroughs with nanocomposite materials that demonstrate significant enhancement in thermoelectric performance. She will also describe the promise of future progress based on current knowledge and the deeper scientific understanding that will come from continued research.

Nanomaterials, composed of structures with typical sizes measured in billionths of a meter, have exceptional promise. Configured as chains of atoms or very thin sheets, they allow a level of independent control of properties that is not achievable in bulk materials. Such control of thermoelectric properties allows the design of materials optimized for energy production.

About the speaker:
Mildred Dresselhaus is an Institute Professor of Electrical Engineering and Physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the recipient of the National Medal of Science and 28 honorary degrees from universities around the world. She has served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Treasurer of the National Academy of Sciences, President of the American Physical Society, and Chair of the Governing Board of the American Institute of Physics.

She is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the American Philosophical Society, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She served as the Director of the Office of Science at the U.S. Department of Energy. Professor Dresselhaus’s research over the years has covered a wide range of topics in condensed matter and materials physics. She is best known for her work on carbon science and carbon nanostructures, as well as nanoscience and nanotechnology more generally. She is also one of the researchers responsible for the resurgence of the thermoelectrics research field through her early work on low-dimensional thermoelectricity.

About the Van Vleck lecture series:

The 36th Annual Van Vleck lecture is hosted by the School of Physics and Astronomy in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering in memory of former faculty member and Nobel Laureate John H. Van Vleck. Since 1983, the Van Vleck lecture series has brought distinguished scientists to the University. Dresselhaus is the first-ever woman lecturer for the Van Vleck lecture series. For more information, visit