Meet John Miller
How John Miller became interested in studying molecular wires is a great example of the power of education. While studying chemistry in college, he learned that electrons can “tunnel” through a string of molecules that don’t conduct well in order to reach an acceptor molecule at the end. In graduate school, he found that tunneling provided an explanation for puzzling phenomena in glassy materials, while biological scientists were uncovering its role in photosynthesis.
“This was exciting, wonderful research that, for example, provided insights into how the sun’s energy is captured by plants in photosynthesis, an exquisitely engineered natural system,” says Miller. “I was hooked.”
As a result of this early interest, Miller ultimately turned his attention to the electron accelerators at the U.S. national laboratories, where electron tunneling through molecules, and eventually along molecular wires, could be studied. In fact, with applications in molecular electronics in mind, scientists had already begun developing long molecule chains that rapidly transferred electrons.
Miller was intrigued. “I wondered about using molecular wires to develop simple, affordable solar energy systems. Brookhaven’s Laser Electron Accelerator Facility seemed an ideal tool to investigate the wires’ potential for converting solar energy to electrical energy.”
Now, at the facility, Miller is doing just that. Through his research, he is helping to advance the “plastic solar” movement, which aims to create polymer-based solar energy panels that are inexpensive, physically flexible, and efficient.
Miller received his bachelor’s degree at Oregon State University in 1966 and a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1971. He then worked for several years at Argonne National Laboratory and came to Brookhaven Lab as a Senior Chemist in 1998.