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Lauren Miller '10 receives Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy

  • Prize in Natural Philosophy
    Prize in Natural Philosophy  Lauren Miller '10 receives the Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy during the Charter Day ceremony Feb. 6.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
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Lauren Miller, a senior biology major at the College of William and Mary, has always enjoyed science and the puzzles it offers.

This weekend, Miller's extraordinary devotion to studying and solving some of those puzzles was recognized when she was presented the 2010 Thomas Jefferson Prize in Natural Philosophy.

The prize, which was presented during the College's Charter Day ceremony on Saturday, recognizes excellence in the sciences and honors the relationship that Jefferson enjoyed with Professor William Small, his College tutor in mathematics and the natural sciences.

Lauren Miller (Photo by Stephen Salpukas)Miller has stood out among her peers from her first semester at the College, when she took a sophomore-level "Integrative Biology: Animals" course. According to Paul Heideman, the professor who taught that class, Miller not only dared to take the class but she also ended up earning the highest grade out of all 155 students enrolled in it.

"I've heard from many other faculty about Lauren's similar brilliance in their classes," said Heideman in a nomination letter.

Additionally during her freshman year, Miller was accepted into the Howard Hughes Medical Institute freshmen research program, under the leadership of Margaret Saha, chancellor professor of biology. Miller began working in Saha's lab during the spring semester of her freshman year, examining the expression patterns of calcium channels during early development to determine what role those channels play in neurotransmitter phenotype determination. Miller was not only able to complete all of the experiments required of her during that first semester in the lab, but she even began assisting others. Miller has continued working in Saha's lab since, often spending 20 to 30 hours in the lab per week while also carrying a full course load. In her nomination letter, Saha said that one of the things that sets Miller apart is that she "reads and masters the background literature relevant to her project."

"She has an easy and absolute command of the literature associated with the project and is eager to understand the driving questions and broader issues," said Saha.

All of Miller's hard work has paid off. During her junior year, she and a group of students finished an analysis of the expression patterns of the alpha1 subunits throughout Xenopus laevis embryogenesis, and the group wrote a paper on their findings. The paper has been accepted for publication by Developmental Dynamics.

"Getting the paper published was really exciting," said Miller. "We actually saw the project through from the very beginning stages all the way to publication. It was exciting to see exactly how science works and how scientists go about getting a paper published."

Miller has also presented her work with a poster at a Society for Developmental Biology meeting in Philadelphia and at the Morphogenesis and Regenerative Medicine meeting at the University of Virginia. And at William & Mary, Miller presented a talk at the Undergraduate Research Symposium. This year, Miller has been working on an honors project, examining the co-expression of calcium channel subunits.

"Although there's been a lot of research done on calcium activity and how it's related to development, no one had condcuted a comprehensive study of where calcium channels are expressed in the nervous system as it's developing," said Miller. "At William & Mary we can be involved in things that haven't been done before - we're not just repeating lab experiments to learn techniques, we're actually going in and addressing real problems - and it's exciting when you think, ‘Wow, I actually have something published in a journal and I'm actually contributing to something.'"

Throughout her College career, Miller has maintained a nearly perfect grade point average. She also scored in the 97th percentile on the Medical College Admission Test, a test she took as a sophomore. Miller has also been involved with several campus groups during her time at William & Mary, including InterVarsity, Students for Life and the Health Careers Club. Following graduation, Miller will enter a M.D./Ph.D. program at Emory University.

"I came into William & Mary thinking I'd be going to med school, but now I'm actually going into an M.D./Ph.D. program with a long-term goal of hopefully doing medical research, of being in a lab and also channeling my research findings into patient care," said Miller.

Saha said that Miller will make "a perfect physician-scientist."

"She combines compassion, calmness and caring with intelligence, passion and curiosity ... and a strong desire to cure disease in the clinic and in the research lab," said Saha in the letter. "Lauren excels in every manner and has every sign of developing into a first rate scientist."

Miller credits her professors and the opportunities that she has received at William & Mary for her success.

"You will have opportunities here that you may not get elsewhere, the opportunity for one-on-one interaction with professors and actually having a project of your own to take as far as you possibly can," she said.