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Saturday, Dec. 9
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

Late professor donates $4.2 million to IU biology

The legacy of one of IU Department of Biology’s most important characters will continue through funding the study of plant life at IU.

Late professor of biology Carlos Miller bequeathed almost $4.2 million to the IU Department of Biology, the largest donation ever made to the department.

This money will be used to provide scholarships for graduate students pursuing a degree in plant biology. 

“We’ll be able to recruit more students that are interested in plant biology — and probably more talented students — because we will be able to offer scholarship support,” former colleague and professor of biology Roger Innes said.

Miller worked at IU from 1957 to 1987. Even after his retirement, professor and Chair of Biology Clay Fuqua said he saw Miller in the greenhouse and lab every day working on experiments and interacting with students.

Fuqua said Miller was known in the biology department for being incredibly generous with his money.

He never married, so he donated a large amount of money to the biology department while he was a faculty member as well.

After this most recent donation, Miller’s gifts to the faculty chair and the student fellowship now total more than $5.4 million, according to a press release.

But his gifts weren’t just monetary.

In 1999, Miller endowed and established the Carlos O. Miller Chair in Plant Growth and Development, and in 2007, he endowed and established the Carlos O. Miller Graduate Fellowship in Plant Developmental Biology.

Miller is best known in the science community for discovering a new hormone named cytokinin, which has a strong effect on growth and development in plants. Fuqua said Miller identified one of the two most important hormones in plant biology.

“He was very methodical and mechanistic,” Fuqua said. “He wanted to know what the underlying molecular mechanisms were that drive the diversity of biology. Why does one plant grow as a weedy, multi-branch plant and another grow as a single trunk?”

Miller devoted the rest of his career to understanding the biochemical ways that cytokinin exert its effects on plant growth and development.

In addition to his talents in science, Fuqua said he had a great conversational style.

“He came across as somewhat of a country boy,” Fuqua said. “He had a very colloquial accent and had a really good sense of humor. He would laugh a lot. He was not the kind of person where you’d meet him and go, ‘Oh, this guy is a master biochemist.’ He was very unassuming.”

Innes said Miller was known in the department for leading by example in his classes.
Many of his graduate students are now leading students and professors at other universities studying plant biology, Fuqua said.

“He just had an insatiable curiosity about how things work, and for the graduate students, that was something that rubbed off on them,” Innes said.

Innes recalled Miller liked to talk about the stock market in addition to science.    

“He was very talented at investing in the stock market, which is why he was able to give so much to the University,” Innes said. “He did very well, but never spent it on himself.”

Miller died in 2012. But with his scholarships and a statue in the biology department, Innes said Miller’s work in the department will not be forgotten. 

“He just loved doing science, and he appreciated that the institution provided him the resources and the infrastructure and students and colleagues that allowed him to do that,” Fuqua said. “The biology department was his family.”

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