The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Charlie Miller Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

May 12, 2015


Charles B. Miller was born in 1940 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father, a physician, intended that Miller become a physician as well. So, in 1958, Miller started at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota as a pre-med student with a chemistry-zoology major. He later changed his major to biology and chemistry. Miller took a break from college part of the way through, bicycling through Mexico and walking through Central America. Later on, he took a summer course in invertebrate zoology at the Pacific Marine Station that led him to choose graduate study in marine biology over medical school.

Miller completed his Carleton degree in 1963 and moved from there to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Although originally planning to study marine biology, he quickly switched over to biological oceanography. Influenced by his mentor, Miller also developed an interest in zooplankton, which became a research focus for him in graduate school and beyond. He completed his Ph.D in 1969 and, after a post-doctoral term in New Zealand, where he worked on statistical aspects of zooplankton sampling, he accepted a faculty position at the Oregon State University Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon.

Once at OSU, Miller taught courses in oceanography and zooplankton, and began to set up his own line of scholarly investigation. Some of his early work analyzed upwellings on the Oregon coast, specifically the composition of zooplankton found there. Other research required a bit more travel, and he used the center's research vessels to visit Ocean Station PAPA in the Gulf of Alaska to sample plankton, the beginning of a broader series of investigations that utilized Ocean Station PAPA.

In 1982, Miller and several other scientists began planning the Subarctic Pacific Ecosystem Research (SUPER) project, a multidisciplinary program focusing on the spring- and summer-time dynamics of the planktonic ecosystem in the sub-Arctic Pacific. The project lasted until 1987 and resulted in a large amount of new data for use by researchers. One especially noteworthy outcome of the initiative was the discovery of a new species of plankton, which Miller named Neocalanus flemingeri after a famous copepodologist who had taught Miller at Scripps.

For several years over the course of the 1980s, Miller served on the advisory council of the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System. In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, he also collaborated on a study of the life cycle and population dynamics of Calanus finmarchicus, the dominant large copepod in most North Atlantic systems. Part of this work was sponsored by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES) and, in 1997, Miller received the Best Presentation Award at the ICES Annual Science Conference.

In 2000, Miller became the chair of the North Pacific Marine Science Organization (PICES) Advisory Panel on a plankton surveying project, and remained in this position until 2008. In 2001, he received the Excellence in Mentoring award from the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences from OSU; two years later, he also won an Excellence in Teaching award.

Miller retired from OSU in 2003, though he continued his research for several years following, working on a project on copepod eggs until 2008. He likewise contributed to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee from 2003 to 2005. A year after his retirement, Miller published the first edition of a textbook, Biological Oceanography, and a second edition followed in 2012.

In retirement, Miller has become more vocal on a number of social and environmental issues, speaking out in particular on climate change and in opposition to a liquefied natural gas pipeline proposed to cross Oregon. He also remains involved in the scientific community, in part by operating a business editing the research manuscripts of non-native English speakers.