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Sarah Millholland receives 2024 Vera Rubin Early Career Award

American Astronomical Society’s Division on Dynamical Astronomy honors the assistant professor and MIT Kavli member for contributions to the dynamics of multi-planet extrasolar systems.
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Sarah Milholland stands in front of an MIT building on a sunny day spring day. Leaves on the trees behind her are just beginning to emerge.
Vera Rubin Early Career Prize recipient Sarah Millholland is an assistant professor in the Department of Physics and a member of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.
Photo: Sandi Miller

Sarah Millholland, an assistant professor of physics at MIT and member of the Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, is the 2024 recipient of the Vera Rubin Early Career Award for her wide-ranging contributions to the formation and dynamics of extrasolar planetary systems.

The American Astronomical Society’s Division on Dynamical Astronomy (DDA) recognized Millholland for her demonstration “that super-Earth planets within a planetary system typically have similar masses, that the statistics of compact multi-planet systems are consistent with a smooth inclination distribution, and that resonances trapping obliquities to high values may enhance the tidal evolution of planetary orbits.”

The citation noted that her work “is distinguished by thoughtful analyses of 3D dynamical processes in planetary systems and by effective use of observational data to constrain dynamical models.” Millholland is invited to give a lecture at the 56th annual DDA meeting in spring 2025.

“I am incredibly honored to receive the DDA Vera Rubin Early Career Prize, and I am especially grateful to my advisors and mentors within the dynamical astronomy community,” says Millholland. “The DDA means a lot to me, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of it for years to come.”

Millholland is a data-driven dynamicist who studies extrasolar planets, including their formation and evolution, orbital architectures, and interiors/atmospheres. She studies patterns in the observed planetary orbital architectures, referring to properties like the spacings, eccentricities, inclinations, axial tilts, and planetary size relationships. She specializes in investigating how gravitational interactions like tides, resonances, and spin dynamics sculpt observable exoplanet properties.

Millholland obtained bachelor’s degrees in physics and applied mathematics from the University of Saint Thomas in 2015. She earned her PhD in astronomy from Yale University in 2020, and was a NASA Sagan Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton University until 2022, when she joined MIT.

The Vera Rubin Early Career Prize was established in 2016 in honor of the late Vera Rubin, a longtime DDA Member and galactic dynamicist.

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