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Lynn Miller: Producing Top-Notch Researchers

Lynn MillerAs a founding faculty member, biology professor Lynn Miller has helped shape Hampshire's School of Natural Science over the past 40 years. He continues to find fresh approaches in his research and teaching. One ongoing project, the sight of which benefits the entire campus community, involves daylilies.

"I have a big experiment in the garden now. I breed daylilies, and some years ago I bred one that was very close to the Banana Republic cultivar that I called Pseudo-Banana Republic. In that same batch of plants I had another random plant that was almost white. I tried to breed it, but I couldn't," he says.

Instead, he self-fertilized the plant, resulting in dozens of seeds that produced almost-white flowering plants of a variety of shapes and sizes.

"Last year I used the Pseudo-Banana Republic to fertilize one of the vigorous, almost-white plants. This plant gave the most spectacular set of seedpods I've ever seen. There are now more than 100 seedlings," says Miller.

"If my hypothesis is correct, and the almost white plant is homozygous and genetically lacking color, all the pollen from the Pseudo-Banana Republic will give their color to these new plants. I'm hoping some of these plants will reproduce that color but be as vigorous and fertile as the self-pollinated plants."

One aspect of Hampshire that Miller deeply enjoys, and that keeps the College exciting for him after 40 years, is student research and the involvement of students in his own research.

During the spring 2010 semester, for instance, there were several projects that he felt exemplified the interdisciplinary approach Hampshire encourages.

"I had students who used their skill in genetics, as well as in the social sciences, to critique what's going on in the genetics world," says Miller.

One, Marissa Baker-Wagner, has been working in a laboratory trying to find cures for dengue fever ever since graduating from high school.

"Her project is an interesting combination of radical critique of neoliberalism and really sophisticated labwork, looking at the denatured proteins of a dengue virus capsid," he said.

More about Baker-Wagner's research

Jamie Moody, meanwhile, investigated geneticization and its implications on health and health care.

"He wrote a very good dissertation on the fact that newspapers and geneticists tend to say everything is genetic—which has always been wrong—and how that affects people's perceptions of their own health," said Miller.

Martina Risech's Division III project, "Genetic Selection and Reproductive Biology: Freedom of Choice vs. Human Rights?" also drew Miller's interest, as it delved into the practical outcomes of genetic policymaking.

More about Risech's research

Risech Neyman's work, as well as that of Baker-Wagner, Moody, and numerous others, is proof to Miller that Hampshire's natural science program is producing top-notch researchers.

"These are three Hampshire students who are good scientists, but who understand the limits of science and the ideologies of genetics," he says. "So that was great fun."

During the fall 2010 semester, Div III student Ariane Panzer is working in Miller's lab. "She's picked a really difficult project, working with a single-celled organism, a paramecium," he says. "Paramecium are organisms you don't usually work with in a lab. Ariane is devising techniques used with other organisms, but I don't know anyone who's used them with the beasties she's working with. She's a good experimentalist, and we hope she gets some nice successes."

Generous alums and friends give more than $1 million every year to the Hampshire Fund. That generosity makes it possible for the College to provide outstanding opportunities for faculty and student research.

 

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