George Miller ’67, MS ’69, Ph.D. ’72 was recently awarded the John S. Foster Medal for his contributions to national security.
by Katherine Vermilyea ’22 for academic advancement
January 5, 2022
The following story originally appeared in a online exclusive for W&M Alumni magazine. – Ed.
Entering the William & Mary campus in 1963, George Miller had no plans to return for two more degrees and stay in Williamsburg for almost a decade. Originally a chemistry graduate, Miller took a physics course in his second year and became addicted to it. Fast forward 58 years, and he is now a recipient of the prestigious John S. Foster Medal – an honor that recognizes innovative leadership in providing safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrence to ensure international peace and strategic stability.
“My sophomore year, I had a class with Bob Welch, which ended up being my Ph.D. advisor. He was a wonderful person, a fantastic teacher, and I found the subject so interesting,” Miller says. “The relationships I established with my undergraduate professors continued through to graduate school. The size and quality of the physics department was perfectly matched.”
Miller also appreciated the foundation W&M gave him in the liberal arts.
“All liberal arts subjects are essential for understanding how the world works and how to think about the world. For my job you must have an understanding of history, of governments and societies, of people. All of these things are incredibly important, ”says Miller.
After his doctorate, Miller joined the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California as a physicist. In 1980 he was promoted to Program Leader for All Thermonuclear Design and Development of Computational Physics. In 1985, he became associate director in charge of the nuclear weapons program.
He left the West Coast for Washington, DC, in 1989 to serve as the Special Scientific Advisor on the Weapons Activities of Secretary of Energy, Admiral James Watkins.
“Most of my lab work was very technical. When you work in Washington, a lot of the effort is focused on communication and collaboration. It was a very valuable experience; you learn how the various elements of national security in the federal government really fit together, ”says Miller.
Miller returned to the lab in 1990, as Associate Director for Defense and Nuclear Technologies, Associate Director for National Security, and Associate Director for National Ignition Installation Programs. Miller then served as the laboratory director from 2006 to 2011. His initial assignment at Livermore was in one of the nuclear weapons design divisions and he remained closely associated with the nuclear weapons program for approximately 20 years, finally extending to other aspects of national security in which the laboratory is involved. The National Ignition Facility which was under construction while he was Associate Director.
“My original intention when I was hired was to only stay on the West Coast for a few years and then move back to the East. I enjoyed the job so much that I decided to stay, ”says Miller. “Many of the Lab’s programs, including climate science, non-proliferation, energy security, and biology, are outgrowths of nuclear weapons programs; they are connected at the level of basic science and technology. By starting with the nuclear weapons program, you quickly get involved in major aspects of national security. It’s strange to think about it, but nuclear weapons are something we actually use every day, in the sense that they help deter aggression every day.
For his outstanding contributions in this field, his outstanding leadership in scientific, technical, and technical development and policy formulation in support of United States nuclear security, Miller was this year awarded the John S. Foster. According to a press release from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the recipients exhibit the same qualities that have distinguished Foster throughout his career: strong national security and programmatic focus, inspiring leadership, and mentorship that promotes team-building, scientific innovation, sharp judgment and leadership. ‘integrity.
Over the course of his decades of laboratory work, Miller’s work evolved as world powers changed.
“Our relationship with the Soviet Union involved competition on several levels, and after its demise there were hopes for a very different kind of relationship – the laboratory interacted with our counterparts in Russia and developed many cooperation projects . Today there are many similarities between our relationship with the Soviet Union and our current relationship with Russia, ”Miller said. “Strategic deterrence has always involved the integration of conventional forces: nuclear, economic and political capabilities. It was never just nuclear. Today, we must add space, cyber, biological and more.
“During the Cold War, we could focus mainly on the Soviet Union. The country was united to face this threat, and we had a huge economic advantage, which is not the case today. We face a host of other countries and groups seeking to undermine the democratic, rules-based world order that we helped create at the end of World War II. The country is horribly divided and focused on itself, unable even to agree on threats posed by climate change or pandemics.
Now retired, Miller remains busy as a member of STRATCOM’s Strategic Advisory Board. He enjoys traveling with his wife and spending time with his grandchildren. He also comes frequently to Williamsburg as a member of the Advisory Council on Graduate Studies.
“It’s a great incentive to come back to campus. I try to give insight and advice from my experiences. Meeting some of the current students is always a real pleasure. At the end of the day, it’s great to be able to give back to college, ”Miller said. He and his wife, Sue, are creating the George H. Miller Physics Student Research Endowment as part of their estate plans, which will provide undergraduate summer research opportunities advised by faculty in the physics department.
Miller sums it all up in one of his favorite quotes from John Adams. It reads: “Public affairs, my son, must always be run by someone.” It will be done by someone or by another. If wise men refuse it, others do not; if honest men refuse it, others do not.
“It really is at the heart of what this country is. People who are ready to devote themselves to the greater good and to the service of our country. I think this issue was brought to my attention very clearly when I was at W&M and with my work in the lab, ”says Miller.