LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2023) — Anne-Frances Miller, professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Kentucky, is serving as the 2022-23 College of Arts and Sciences’ Distinguished Professor and will deliver the annual Distinguished Professor Lecture Monday, May 1, 2023.
The lecture, titled “Renewable: New Opportunities from one of Life’s Most Ancient Chemical Tools,” will begin at 5 p.m. in the William T. Young Library Athletic Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Alumni Gallery in the library.
The lecture will explore better ways to extract energy from abundant renewable resources.
“What if we had to survive on 18 times less energy?” Miller asks in her description of the lecture. “Ancient microbes have been doing so for almost 3 billion years, so the Miller lab turned to them for some tips.”
While solar and wind power demonstrate enormous capacity and have become cost-competitive, both are considered intermittent. Also, petroleum is convenient because of its high energy density.
Fortunately, Miller says there is a better way to extract energy from abundant renewable sources.
“Ancient microbes that lived without oxygen optimized clever strategies for doing so, using a process called electron transfer bifurcation,” she said. “This remarkable process appears to defy the third law of thermodynamics. Moreover it does so with non-toxic renewable materials.”
By elucidating the principles underlying bifurcation, the Miller lab intends to make bifurcation deployable in man-made devices, to improve their versatility and efficiency.
To understand this process, Miller invites the UK community to plunge into a protein with her, to follow the paths of electron transfer from a cheap abundant fuel to a stepped-up product able to rupture triple bonds and fix carbon dioxide.
The talk will explain what makes natural systems work so remarkably well, but also what strategies could be repurposed in man-made materials. By putting bifurcation to work, Miller hopes to convert solar and wind current into high-density portable storable fuel, applying an ancient solution to a timeless problem: energy.
Miller has established herself as an outstanding professor, an insightful biochemist and a leader in her field of research.
Her internationally recognized work investigates energy efficiency in sophisticated biological systems as well as mechanisms they use for optimizing the storage of intermittent energy and deploying it with maximum versatility. This is monumental and uniquely timely research as societies shift toward more renewable energy sources.
With over 100 peer-reviewed publications, Miller’s work has been published in a variety of scientific journals including the Journal of American Chemical Society, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Chemical Reviews. She was also invited to chair the Gordon Research Conference in her field and has won prizes such as the Biophysical Society Young Investigator Award and the 2021 Herty Medal from the Georgia Section of the American Chemical Society.
As a professor at UK, Miller has taken a leadership role in her department, developing new and exciting courses that make chemistry accessible to a broad range of students. For example, she re-invented a long-standing molecular biophysics course to enhance student quantitative thinking. She has also sought to make science more accessible to artists through the development of courses such as “Plant Pigments, Fragrances, and Fibers.”
In the community, Miller recently completed her term as chair of the American Chemical Society’s division of biological chemistry. Her time is also spent regularly working with local school boards, science centers and organizations such as the Girl Scouts to increase understanding and interest in science.
“It is my immense honor to recognize Dr. Anne-Frances Miller as the 2022-2023 A&S Distinguished Professor," said Ana Franco-Watkins, dean of the UK College of Arts and Sciences, in a previous release. "Professor Miller is a renowned, innovative researcher with outstanding accomplishments in biochemistry. Her research positively impacts our planet and world. She is also a dedicated and engaged teacher by providing modernized class offerings to elevate our student learning and experiences. Her service to her profession as well as outreach in community is commendable. We are fortunate to have Dr. Miller as a valued member of our A&S family and UK community.”
The Distinguished Professor Lecture is free and open to the public.
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