California Institute of Technology Professor of Chemistry and College Station native Dr. Thomas F. Miller III has been selected by the Texas A&M University College of Science for its highest alumni honor — induction into the college’s Academy of Distinguished Former Students.
Miller, Class of 2000, earned his bachelor of science in chemistry and mathematics with a minor in physics at Texas A&M in 2000 and has been a professor at Caltech since 2008. As a theoretical chemist, he is an expert in developing mathematical models and computational algorithms to simulate and understand a variety of molecular and chemical processes. He and his Caltech research group use such approaches to study a range of problems, including enzyme and molecular catalysis, solar energy conversion, battery chemistry and performance, protein synthesis and cellular targeting, and the transport of proteins across cell membranes. Because many systems exhibit dynamics that couple vastly different time- and length-scales, a primary goal of Miller’s research is to develop new computational strategies to accurately and efficiently simulate complex molecular systems while also bridging dynamical hierarchies.
“Many of the urgent problems facing our society — including the generation and storage of renewable energy, the development of improved medicines and the design of new materials — are fundamentally related to molecular processes; i.e., chemistry,” Miller said. “Theoretical chemistry provides the tools to understand the underlying molecular behavior, to help interpret experimental measurements and to predict new properties and phenomena. Just like computer simulations have dramatically impacted the fields of weather and climate prediction, traffic flow, and demographics, so too have they become central to the way in which we understand and study chemical problems. Theoretical chemistry is the field that makes this possible.”
The Academy was established in 1996 to recognize Aggies who have brought honor to their alma mater and professions through outstanding leadership in mathematics, statistics, the sciences and medicine. Each year, inductees typically are recognized for their achievements and contributions to their profession, community and causes as part of the college’s annual Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner celebrating current scholarship recipients along with all of the donors who have established new endowed gifts within the college’s five departments during the past year. Because this year’s event, set for April 3 at the Hilton College Station & Conference Center, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Miller instead will be honored at the 2021 event. He joins a prestigious list of 61 previous honorees distinguished for their innovation, merit and records of professional and personal accomplishment.
Born in San Diego, Miller grew up in College Station, where his parents, Thomas F. Miller Jr. ’87 and Robyn Konrad ’99, both worked for Texas A&M. His father retired in 2011 after decades as an internal auditor with The Texas A&M University System, while his mother continues to serve as an academic advisor in the Texas A&M Department of History. Miller graduated from Texas A&M with honors in both chemistry and mathematics and a number of awards and scholarships, including the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship and John B. Beckham Award in Science. He also conducted undergraduate research as a member of Texas A&M chemist and Davidson Professor of Science Dr. Michael B. Hall’s laboratory, where he gained invaluable early experience with computational methods of molecular simulation.
“I have always enjoyed chemistry, physics and math as well as the challenge of getting to the bottom of complicated problems,” Miller said. “So the thing that ‘seduced’ me into becoming a theoretical chemist was the realization that those interests coincided in the description of molecules. A major turning point in my career came in my freshman year, when I learned the way in which the Schrödinger Equation provided a simple, clear and essentially exact mathematical description of chemical bonding. The idea that all of chemistry rests upon this equation from physics and the mathematical challenge of solving it was simply too intriguing to pass up. I immediately began participating in undergraduate research in a theoretical chemistry lab, and I have since enjoyed the myriad directions in which this pursuit has led.”
Miller attended graduate school in the United Kingdom as Texas A&M’s first-ever recipient of the highly competitive Marshall Scholarship, pursuing research under the supervision of noted British chemists Sir David C. Clary, FRS, and David Manolopoulos. He earned a master’s in theoretical chemistry from University College London in 2002 and his Ph.D. in theoretical chemistry from Balliol College, Oxford University, in 2005. At Oxford, Miller was recognized with the Jowett Senior Exhibition Prize, Balliol College’s highest award for graduate scientific research. Following a three-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, Berkeley, working with chemists David Chandler and William Miller on the Helios project exploring the fundamental science behind solar energy conversion, he began his independent academic career as an assistant professor at Caltech in 2008. He was promoted to full professor in 2013 and has since authored more than 100 publications in leading scientific journals as well as five patents.
“Thomas Miller is certainly one of the most outstanding theoretical chemists in the world today who is involved in pioneering new techniques and applying them to the most significant scientific problems,” said Clary, who has served since 2005 as president of Magdalen College, Oxford. “The vision of his research program has been truly adventurous and has shown excellent planning, patience in developing new theory, and exciting implementations that are taking theoretical chemistry in many different directions. Furthermore, his research is on such a rising trajectory that further breakthroughs from him are certain.”
Among his many accomplishments, Miller is an original developer of three core technologies that have transformed previous methods of theoretical and computational chemistry and the direction of related research across countless disciplines — ring-polymer molecular dynamics (RPMD) used to study nuclear quantum effects; the embedded mean-field theory (EMFT) and projection-based wavefunction-in-DFT methods that have enabled the quantum embedding description of electronic structures; and the molecular-based machine-learning (MOB-ML) method. In addition, he is the co-founder of the Entos quantum simulation package that efficiently implements all three tools and already has been commercially licensed to Dow Chemical and Amgen, among other companies.
“It has been inspiring to see the breadth and depth of applications that he has worked on, demonstrating that he is capable of becoming a major force not only within the theoretical chemistry community but for chemistry as a whole,” said Dr. George C. Schatz, Morrison Professor of Chemistry as well as a professor of chemical and biological engineering at Northwestern University. “Tom’s accomplishments easily put him among the top three theoretical chemists in his age group in the United States, and moreover, he is well positioned to grow his reputation going forward.”
Miller’s many career awards to date include the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation New Faculty Award (2008), Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship (2011), National Science Foundation CAREER Award (2011), American Chemical Society Hewlett-Packard Outstanding Junior Faculty Award (2011), Associated Students of Caltech Teaching Award (2012), Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award (2013), ACS Early Career Award in Theoretical Chemistry (2015), Jones Lectureship from Queen’s University in Canada (2019) and Löwdin Lectureship from Uppsala University in Sweden (2020).
“Tom has been an outstanding Texas A&M graduate,” Hall said. “He has a large research group at Caltech and is an excellent mentor and coach to his students and postdocs, placing many in faculty positions at leading universities throughout the United States. He has a solid track record of continuing interest in and participation with the Department of Chemistry. Shortly before his promotion at Caltech, Tom returned to Texas A&M for an invited seminar that was widely praised by both the faculty and the students. He returned again in 2016 to participate in a symposium in memory of D. Wayne Goodman as part of our department’s 50th anniversary celebration, and just two months ago in April, he co-presented a virtual Entos short course in partnership with Texas A&M High Performance Research Computing.”
Members of the Academy of Distinguished Former Students receive a commemorative award and have their names inscribed on a perpetual plaque included in the Academy section of the College of Science donor recognition wall located on the first floor of the John R. Blocker Building.
For more information on the Academy and its previous inductees, visit https://science.tamu.edu/giving/adfs/.
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The complete list of gifts established between March 2019 and March 2020 and their purposes is as follows:
— The Dr. Phyllis Toback Mechanics Scholar Award was established in July 2019 by Dr. David Toback and Mrs. Katherine Toback ’88 to provide three awards in both the fall and spring semesters for a total of six awards annually to students who achieve the three highest scores each semester on the PHYS 206 Mechanics Challenge Exam.
— The H.O. Hartley Chair in Statistics was established in July 2019 by Dr. Ersen Arseven ’74 and Dr. William B. Smith ’60 in honor of Dr. Hartley to support the teaching, research, service and professional development activities of an esteemed faculty member in the Department of Statistics.
— The Clearfield Family Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars in Chemistry was established in May 2019 by Dr. Abraham Clearfield, Norman Clearfield and Dr. Howard Clearfield to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Debra L. ’79 and Michael D. Dishberger ’79 Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars was established in November 2019 by Mr. Michael Dishberger ’79 and Mrs. Debra Dishberger ’79 to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the College of Science and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Alejandro and Nicole Gonzalez – Raymond Martin Gutierrez and Melba P. Gutierrez Charitable Trust Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars was established in July 2019 by Dr. Dagoberto Gonzalez Jr. ’92 and Mrs. Patricia Gonzalez ’92 to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the College of Science and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Dr. Matthew A. ’82 and Patricia J. Harthcock Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars was established in February 2020 by Dr. Matthew Harthcock ’82 and Mrs. Patricia Harthcock to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Richard and Agnes Hrncir aggieTEACH Scholarship was established in August 2019 by Agnes Hrncir to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the College of Science and enrolled in the aggieTEACH program.
— The Killough Family Chemistry Scholarship was established in January 2020 by Dr. James “Mike” Killough ’75 and Mrs. Gabrielle “Gigi” Killough ’78 to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees in chemistry.
— The Ahmed M. Mahmoud ’87 Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars was established in September 2019 by Ahmed Mahmoud ’87 to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the College of Science and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Charlotte and John McMath ’66 Scholarship was established in August 2019 by Dr. John McMath ’66 and Mrs. Charlotte McMath to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in mathematics from the College of Science, with preference for members of the Corps of Cadets.
— The Patrick D. Moller ’80 Endowed Memorial Scholarship was established in July 2019 by Suzanne Moller ’80 in memory of her late husband to support full-time students pursuing bachelor of science degrees in chemistry from the College of Science.
— The Dina and Dr. Tyler Pendergrass ’94 Scholarship for Science Leadership Scholars was established in July 2019 by Dr. Tyler Pendergrass ’94 and Mrs. Dina Pendergrass to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the College of Science and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Marci and Dr. Joel Richter ’71 Scholarship in the Howard L. Gravett Scholars Program was established in March 2020 by Dr. Joel Richter ’71 and Mrs. Marci Richter to support full-time pre-med students pursuing undergraduate degrees in biology and participating in the Science Leadership Scholars Program.
— The Sandi Smith Undergraduate Scholarship in Physics and Astronomy was established in February 2020 by the Department of Physics and Astronomy in memory of longtime academic advisor Sandi Smith to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
— The Jo Ann and Dr. Charles H. Whiteside ’53 Endowed Scholarship in Chemistry was established in July 2019 by Dr. Charles Whiteside ’53 and Mrs. Jo Ann Whiteside to support full-time students pursuing undergraduate degrees in chemistry.
— The Professor Manuel P. Soriaga Graduate Fellowship was established in December 2019 by Dr. Elizabeth Soriaga in memory of her late husband to support full-time students pursuing graduate degrees in chemistry from the College of Science.
— The Joel Zinn Endowed Memorial Graduate Fellowship in Mathematics was established in July 2019 by Michele Zinn ’87 in memory of her late husband to support full-time students pursuing Ph.D.s from the Department of Mathematics in the College of Science.
Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or [email protected]