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Miller elected to AAAS fellowship

By Sally Harris

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 19 - February 1, 1996

Known popularly for his guides to mushrooms and academically for his work in the science of fungi, Orson K. Miller Jr., professor of botany in the biology department at Virginia Tech, has been elected a fellow in the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

"Each year," wrote Richard S. Nicholson, executive officer of AAAS, "the council elects members whose `efforts on behalf of the advancement of science or its applications are scientifically or socially distinguished.'" Miller was honored with the AAAS fellowship "for contributions to systematics, genetics, and ecology of fungi, for production of widely used field guides, for contributions as a teacher, and for work with amateur mycologists."

Miller received his B.S. degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1952. After serving in the army from 1952 until 1955, he received his M.S. from the University of Michigan in 1957 and his Ph. D. in 1963.

He came to Virginia Tech in 1970 as associate professor of botany and was made full professor and curator of fungi in 1973. Before coming to Virginia Tech, he worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as principal research plant pathologist in its Forest Disease Laboratory. He has been a visiting professor of botany at the University of Montana Biological Station in alternate summers for a number of years.

One of Miller's major research interests has been with mycorrhizal fungi (mushrooms), which are associated beneficially with forest and shade trees such as pines and oaks. He has studied their host association, the effect they have on the plant community, and the numbers and kinds of fungi associated with a given tree species such as pines.

He has spent nearly three decades studying the fungi of the Western United States and Canada, including 12 seasons of field work in Alaska. He also has carried out extensive field work in Korea, Japan, and 13 countries in Europe. He has an active research project in Australia.

He also has carried out studies of desert fungi from the dry valleys of the Yukon Territory south to the Anzo Borego Desert in Southern California, from Western Australia to the Namib Desert in Namibia, South Africa.

His other professional experience includes consultant to the Branch of Forensic Medicine at Walter Reed Hospital, a consultant for the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a cooperative researcher with Pfizer Inc. to provide pure cultures for scientific research, and principal investigator for numerous scientific research projects.

Miller is the author of Mushrooms of North America, of which there have been eight printings in paperback and a total sales of 245,000 copies of hardback and paperback combined. The book is used widely as a textbook. Miller is co-author with D.E. Farr of Index of the Common Fungi of North America and co-author with Hope Miller of Mushrooms in Color: How to Know Them, Where to Find Them, What to Avoid. He served as editor of Mushrooms of Texas by S. Metzler and V.T. Metzler. He is co-author of Mushrooms of North America in Color, A Field Guide to Seldom-Illustrated Fungi, published in 1995 by Syracuse University Press. In addition, Miller has published scientific papers in numerous professional journals.

Miller has served on the editorial boards of several scientific publications and has served as a reviewer for such organizations as the Mycological Society of America and the National Science Foundation. He served on the Shiitake Development Committee for the Department of Agriculture and is a member of numerous professional societies, including the Virginia Academy of Science.

In the area of teaching, Miller has directed the theses or dissertations of 25 graduate students and supervised five post-doctoral students. He received the William H. Weston Award for Teaching Excellence in Mycology from the Mycological Society of America.

Miller has won numerous awards and honors, including membership in Sigma Xi and Phi Sigma and awards from the North American Mycological Association for contributions to amateur mycology. The certificate and rosette of the AAAS Fellowship will be presented in Baltimore February 10 during the AAAS Fellows Forum, a part of the association's annual meeting.