Awards & Honors, Student Experience
Image of a surfer riding a large wave.

Undergraduate applied physics major Miles Miller is one of seven recipients of the 2020 Undergraduate Research in Science & Technology Award. For student achievement week, we asked him about his time at UC Santa Cruz, his research, and his advice for incoming students.

Please tell us about your experience at UC Santa Cruz.
My experience here at UCSC has been nothing short of phenomenal. The dorms in my freshmen year were a great way to meet new friends and I especially enjoyed the dining halls. The incredible community and faculty of the physics, applied math, and ocean science departments have been very welcoming, kind, and knowledgeable. It is very special and motivating to be taught by professors that work on the front edge of physics and math research. The recreation department is incredible. I’ve taught surf lessons there for the last three years, and I understand how important of a role recreation plays in student life.

Sport clubs have also played a major role in my development as a student. The UCSC Surf Team is one of the most spirited and high energy teams in all of NSSA, the collegiate surfing organization, and some of my best memories at UCSC have been with the surf team competing in Southern California. I am extremely fortunate to have been a part of such an awesome group of people.

Another experience I am grateful for is the last three years spent surfing, studying, and living with my six best friends and housemates off campus.

Lastly, I had the opportunity to take an ocean science research position one-on-one with Professor Edwards, and that is something I will never forget.

What are your research interests and goals?

Portrait of Miles Miller wearing a baseball cap that reads "Salty Crew"
Miles Miller

My research interests have always been centered around the study of fluid dynamics, especially waves. My first research endeavor was working with professor Christopher Edwards to provide a numerical solution for Stokes drift resulting from tidal forced internal waves in an effort to understand the significance it plays in larval transport. The project I am currently working on pertains to the application and numerical calculations of the upwelling irradiance from a regional ocean modeling system (ROMS) output. Following the work of Dutkiewicz (2015) in the use of a three stream model to calculate the upwelling, downward direct, and scattering irradiance in a water column given different phytoplankton species and density profiles over a domain.

My current undergraduate thesis work involves the subject I am most passionate about, surface gravity water waves. I have been a surfer my whole life, and I have always been entertained by and curious about the dynamics of water waves. My thesis objective is to demonstrate or refute the utility of the smoothed particle hydrodynamic method for problems of non-linear wave dynamics, with a focus on wave amplitude, through comparison to physical wave tank data and theory.

After visiting and surfing Kelly Slater’s wave pool with the UCSC Surf Team my freshmen year, I have wanted to pursue a career that involved the engineering and theory of man-made surfing waves. I have since set my career aim to be a wave pool engineer and have been working diligently toward achieving this goal. My other goals include getting a scientific paper published, surfing the biggest waves I can find, prone paddling to from Santa Cruz to Monterey and back, and spending time with my friends and family.

Please share your accomplishments during your time here at UC Santa Cruz.

One of my proudest accomplishments is having surfed the last three winters out at Maverick’s and riding the biggest waves of my life. I am also very fortunate to have been awarded the UCSC Undergraduate Research in Science and Technology Award, which has provided me with the funding for my thesis work. The funding allowed me to build and perfect a small-scale wave tank, on which I have been working on for the last two quarters. As a physics student with a theoretical background, it has certainly been a challenge to take the initiative to learn more about engineering and applied math to design and complete my wave tank project. It was also a difficult task during my sophomore and junior years to balance my academic workload with managing the surf team as team captain. I am grateful to have been accepted into and pursuing the Applied Math and Scientific Computing 4+1 Masters program here at UCSC, and will be happily graduating with my degree in physics this fall!

What advice do you have for incoming UC Santa Cruz students?

From my experience as a meandering and wandering freshman with very little idea of what I wanted to do or how I should spend my time at UCSC, my advice would be to be BOLD! If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, then just start trying things. Join clubs, take weird classes, and most importantly, make lots of friends that will support you and make you happy… Stray away from indecision. If you tried something and you didn’t like it, at least you tried something, and that’s better than wondering what to do all day. If you want to learn a ton and create lots of opportunities for yourself, then get involved in research. Reach out to professors that study things you are interested in and if they don’t reply to your first email, write another one, and if they don’t reply to that one, go knock on their office door and introduce yourself! Have a great time, be true to yourself, and enjoy every second because those four years will be over quicker than you’ll ever imagine.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would like to express my gratitude for my advisor Christopher A. Edwards and all that he has done to support me through my academic journey. I would also like to thank my parents, family and friends, for without them I would not be the person I am today.

Congratulations to Miles and all of our 2020-2021 award winners! For more student stories, check out the “Student Experience” category on the newscenter.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Miller’s major as ocean sciences.