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Triple Science Major Named Marshall Scholar

Weinberg senior Jennifer Mills aims to work on forefront of climate science

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November 26, 2012 | by Wendy Leopold
Jennifer Mills
Jennifer Mills
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University undergraduate Jennifer Mills has been fascinated by science for as long as she can remember. As a winner of a 2013 Marshall Scholarship, the self-confessed “puzzle fanatic” will study at the University of Cambridge and University of Edinburgh in an effort to solve one of science’s most urgent puzzles -- climate change.

A senior in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, Mills plans to work at the forefront of climate science not only to improve our understanding of the ways human actions are changing global geochemical cycles but also to collaborate with policymakers and promote environmental consciousness on a global level.

“Jenny has the potential to marshal fundamental knowledge from multiple disciplines that will allow her to take whatever research she pursues to new frontiers,” says Brad Sageman, professor and chair of earth and planetary sciences at Northwestern. “We will be hearing about her contributions in the years to come, and I have no doubt that her impact will be very significant.”

Mills graduated from high school in Winnipeg, Canada, and arrived as a Northwestern freshman with Advanced Placement (AP) credits equal to nearly a full year of University classes. Her professors call her stellar academic record remarkable given the extremely rigorous science curriculum she has chosen to pursue.

She is a triple major in earth and planetary science, in chemistry and in integrated science, with a minor in physics. Northwestern’s highly selective Integrated Science Program provides its graduates with coursework and research experience in a broad range of disciplines and ultimately is the equivalent of the first year of graduate school in the major sciences.

A basketball and history enthusiast, Mills has used her understanding of the laws of physics to analyze Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.” As co-founder and co-captain of Northwestern’s Microgravity Team, she traveled to Houston in 2011 to conduct an experiment of the team’s design aboard NASA’s reduced gravity aircraft. It was as close to experiencing space travel as I could get, Mills says.

She calls herself “a chemist at heart,” refers to physics as “beautiful” and is drawn to earth science because “the earth is the biggest and messiest system out there, controlled by variables we have only begun to define.” Her fate as a research scientist was sealed when she interviewed her physicist/engineer grandfather for a fourth grade project and learned that she could make a living asking questions and trying to answer them.

Sageman calls Mills “the most uniquely gifted young scientist I have ever known and, with the background she has gained at Northwestern, the most well-trained young scientist I have ever known.”

Mills seems surprised when asked why she pursues virtually all the sciences. “I firmly believe that in science today you can’t just have a base in a single field,” she says. “You have to understand how all the sciences and mathematics interconnect and have the tool kit to explore them.”

Named Northwestern’s outstanding junior in physics last year, Mills was accepted as a junior to both Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Pi Sigma, the national physics honor society. Among other honors this year, she was named a Goldwater Scholar, an Oliver Marcy Scholar for top rising seniors in the natural sciences and a Lewis H. Sarrett Scholar as Northwestern’s top rising senior in chemistry.

Already the co-author of two academic journal articles, Mills has conducted laboratory research with researchers at Northwestern, the University of Manitoba and the National Geophysical Data Center in Boulder, Colo. She will present the results of her current research at this year’s annual meeting of the American Geological Union.

Mills has enthusiastically shared her passion for science by conducting space-science demonstrations at Northwestern’s Dearborn Observatory, by mentoring and tutoring middle and high school students and by tutoring undergraduates in physics, chemistry and mathematics.

As a research intern with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration last summer, she analyzed satellite observations of the auroral zone. She will present on that work at the 2013 Earth-Sun System Exploration Conference.

Mills defines breaking down the complexities of the earth system through interdisciplinary study and collaboration as the “ultimate puzzle.” And it is that puzzle she intends to spend her life solving.

Active on intramural teams in volleyball, basketball, floor hockey and soccer at Northwestern, Mills is looking forward to learning the art of rowing while studying in Great Britain.

The highly prestigious Marshall Scholarships were established in 1953 as a British gesture of thanks to the people of the United States for assistance received after World War II under the Marshall Plan. Financed by the British Government, they provide an opportunity for American students who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership potential to continue their studies for two years at any British university.

More than 1,500 young Americans have become Marshall Scholars since the program’s inception. Among them are Stephen Breyer, Supreme Court Associate Justice; Peter Orszag, former director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Anne Applebaum, Tom Friedman and Dan Yergen; William Burns, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State; Roger Tsien, 2008 Nobel Prize-winning chemist; Reid Hoffman, creator of LinkedIn; Ray Dolby, inventor of the Dolby sound system.  

Topics: People