A two-day celebration of the research — and overall wackiness — of professor of biochemistry Chris Miller.
It's not every scientist whose research can be characterized as "peripatetic, profound and deeply weird." But this was how the organizers of the recent two-day tribute to Brandeis professor of biochemistry Chris Miller chose to describe it.
The event, which ran from July 8 to 9, was called Christravaganza Millerpaloozah — a celebration of "the life, research, mentoring, and lunacy of Chris Miller."
Miller, who came to Brandeis in 1976, studies ion channels, proteins in cell membranes that regulate the flow of ions and generate electrical signals used by cells to communicate. He has been a prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator since 1989. In 2007, he was made a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
"Chris, to me, personifies Brandeis' mission to provide excellent teaching to undergraduates, graduates and post-grads," Brandeis' new president, Ronald Liebowitz, said in opening remarks. "Chris is one of many passionate scientists that have fueled Brandeis preeminence in (the sciences) by pursuing fundamental questions that can move a field forward."
One of Miller's first undergraduate students after he arrived at Brandeis was Roderick MacKinnon '78 who went on to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In his talk, MacKinnon remembered Miller's habit of shouting, "Suit up, we're going in!" before he entered the cold storage room in his lab.
MacKinnon, now at the The Rockefeller University in New York, thought all scientists did this. "I was a completely naive clueless kid," he said. But a technician in the lab evidently didn't know what to make of it. He never returned to work after his first day.
MacKinnon initially pursued a career in medicine but returned to be a postdoc in Miller's lab in the late 1980s. "It was the happiest time in my life," MacKinnon said. He said scientists choose their profession because as kids, "we were curious. Science to us was this exploration, fiddling around, doing things."
"With all the pressures of life, all the things we deal with, it's easy to forget that," MacKinnon added. "Chris is a scientist who never forgets this. He always keeps the spirit that we all have and we always try to hold onto."