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Memorial Tributes, Volume 14
Elected in 1991
“For contributions to advanced high-power lasers and optical systems.”
BY PETER STAUDHAMMER
JOE MILLER was born on April 3, 1937, in San Francisco, California, to parents of modest means. His father was a carpenter, later to become a general construction contractor. Eventually, the family moved to Los Angeles, where Joe grew up together with his three siblings. The family prized education and provided both nurture and a balance of love and competition that gave flavor to Joe’s personality and success.
Joe attended Van Nuys High School, where he became interested in math, science, and engineering. In 1954 he entered the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) as a freshman engineering student. For the first two years, his record at UCLA was unremarkable. From his transcript one would conclude that Joe might just be average. Not so! Near the end of his second year, Joe applied for a job on a state-supported air pollution project, under the leadership of Professor Sam Yuster. Though there were many applicants and Joe’s academic record did not stand out, he came through as brilliant in his interviews. So he was asked to join the project team. Sam Yuster was a good principal investigator, but he was an absolute genius at knowing how to teach about life and how to motivate—and motivated Joe became. His academics improved to practically straight A’s for the rest of his stay at UCLA; he wrote papers, he made innovations, and he became a first-rate engineering leader.