Astronomy Student Wins $20,000 Mitchell Student Grand Prize Award for Academic Excellence

George Miller, astronomy senior and Dean's Scholar in the College of Natural Sciences at The University of Texas at Austin, has won the $20,000 grand prize in the University Co-operative Society's George H. Mitchell Awards for Academic Excellence.

Winners of the 13th annual undergraduate student awards were announced May 2.

The awards celebrate University of Texas at Austin students with exemplary academic records who have made an extraordinary contribution to their fields of study through a research project, literary work, musical composition, humanitarian project or similar undertaking.

Miller was nominated by Don Winget, the Harlan J. Smith Centennial Professor in Astronomy, for his thesis, "The Discovery of Two Planets Orbiting the Post-Common Envelope Eclipsing Binary NN Serpentis." Miller graduates this month and will begin work on a Ph.D. at Harvard University in the fall. He is also a member of the university's Plan II Honors Program.

Winget said that Miller stood out from the beginning among an extraordinary group of Dean's Scholars and high achievers selected for the astronomy stream. As a freshman, he went to the McDonald Observatory and learned how to take his own data on the Otto Struve telescope and to analyze and interpret the data. This spring, Miller became the local expert on the robotic MONET telescope. Several groups of teachers have started using MONET under Miller's tutelage.

Miller led participation with a research group from the University of Goettingen in an exciting new series of observations on NN Serpentis, a close binary star with circumbinary planets. The discoveries of these long-period planets were the first of their kind and demonstrated that the process of planet formation is far more forgiving than previously realized.

Three other undergraduates Seth Whitsitt, a physics major; Ramu Kharel, an Asian cultures and languages major; and Ryan Truby, a biomedical engineering major won the second prize and received $5,000 each.

The three winners of the $2,000 awards were James Salazar, a biomedical engineering and computational biology major; Jillian Owens, a religious studies and Plan II major; and Jean Nava, majoring in sociology, mathematics and economics.