Robert Francis Miller, 1939-2021

(From: StarTribune)

Robert Francis “Bob” Robert Francis Miller (Bob), Professor Emeritus of Neuroscience and Physiology at the University of Minnesota, passed away March 1, 2021. Preceded in death by his parents, Irvine Miller and Ettie Paxman (nee Miller) and stepfather Rulon Paxman, he is survived by Rosemary, his loving wife of 52 years; his sons Derek and Drew (Stefanie); sisters Cynthia, Cathy and their families; brother-in-law Rit (Brenda), their son Eric (Tiffany); sister-in-law Stephanie and her daughter Nicki (Randall), and their sons Sam and Jack; along with countless other friends and colleagues. Born in Eugene, Oregon, in 1939, Bob grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, from an early age demonstrating the same curiosity and enthusiasm that would define his personal and professional life. As a child he trained carrier pigeons (released by his father from as far away as Idaho), started a business selling aquarium fish and (secretly) stabled his own horse, all before he was old enough to shave. After becoming the youngest Eagle Scout in Utah history, Bob worked his way up to become head chef at Finn’s, then one of Utah’s best restaurants. He developed into an expert skier of Utah’s famed deep powder mountains as well as an accomplished golfer, both passions he would continue to pursue joyfully for the rest of his life. But it was in medical school at the University of Utah that Bob discovered his lifelong passion – scientific research. He spent the next half century dedicated to science, focusing his efforts on the vertebrate eye, his work resulting in significant contributions to our understanding of the retina. After receiving his MD Bob did postdoctoral work at Johns Hopkins University before joining the Navy as an officer, where he continued his research in Pensacola, FL. He was hired as a professor at SUNY-Buffalo two years later, beginning an illustrious career in academic medicine. At SUNY he played a pivotal role in establishing a vibrant basic science research program in the visual neurosciences, one that continues to this day. From there Bob moved to Washington University in St. Louis, MO, where he continued to conduct groundbreaking research. In 1988 he was recruited as 3M Bert Cross Chair and Department Head of Physiology at the University of MN, later becoming a professor in the newly established Neuroscience Department. He would remain in that position until his retirement in 2018. Early on Bob developed into an avid teacher and mentor, and he remained proud that his laboratory helped launch numerous successful scientific careers. After a career spent lecturing on his research everywhere from local classrooms to international symposia, Bob’s teaching and research efforts were both recognized with high honors: in 2008 he received the Association for Research In Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO’s) Proctor Medal, which recognizes significant lifelong contributions to vision research. Throughout his life Bob remained a dedicated father and husband. His bond with his sons remained strong, and they continued to spend time together playing golf (alongside lifelong friend Steve Hall), snowshoeing and vacationing together. He and Rosemary traveled the world and saw friends even as Bob found intensive new pursuits later in life, becoming a prizewinning orchid grower and starting his own politically oriented blog. After caring for him through a difficult illness, progressive supranuclear palsy, his immediate family was happy to be by his side when he passed. Bob’s spirit, his intense engagement with his interests, his infectious sense of humor and much more are already missed. He will be remembered by friends, family and colleagues alike. An in-person memorial service will be held at a later date. Donations in Bob’s honor may be sent to the ARVO Foundation or to the Dowling Society within ARVO. Donations may also be made to the UMN Foundation.

Harris Ripps Memorial At ARVO

Harris Ripps

At this year’s ARVO meeting in Denver, please join us for a session honoring the memory of Dr. Harris Ripps.

Tuesday 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Room 708/710/712

Dr. Harris Ripps (1927 – 2014), Proctor Medal winner and past ARVO President, devoted his scientific career to studies on the retina and on causes of visual loss in inherited retinal diseases. He made significant contributions in many areas of vision research, including the kinetics of visual pigment bleaching and regeneration, electrical and chemical communication among retinal neurons and glia, and the cellular mechanisms of retinal degeneration. This memorial session will celebrate Dr. Ripps’ long time vision research career with talks by several his colleagues and students. The audience is welcome to contribute remarks during the open period of the session.

Session chair: John Dowling, Ph.D., Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, Harvard University


Bradford Ripps, O.D., Total Eyecare, New Jersey
Richard Chappell, Ph.D., Marine Biological Laboratory, Massachusetts
David Pepperberg, Ph.D., Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
Robert Paul Malchow, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
Haohua Qian, Ph.D., National Eye Institute
Muna Naash, Ph.D., Department of Cell Biology, University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center
John O’Brien, Ph.D., Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science, University of Texas
Wen Shen, Ph.D., Department of Biomedical Science, Florida Atlantic University


Who’s That? Wolfgang Baehr

This photograph of a young scientist in training is the second in the Who’s That? category here on Webvision.  The inaugural post in this category explains the idea behind these posts, but this post shows us, as you’ve deduced from the post title, a young Wolfgang Baehr seen in the Institute for Physical Chemistry at the University of Heidelberg in 1963.  Incidentally, one of Wolfgang’s sons is studying at Heidelberg University and looks shockingly like him in this photo.

Wolfgang was born in Mannheim, Germany and studied organic chemistry while at the University of Heidelberg before moving on to graduate school and then where we find him today in vision science.

Continue reading “Who’s That? Wolfgang Baehr”

Secret Societies And The Restoration Of Vision

The desire to restore vision, once lost is as old as man itself.

This article by Noah Shachtman in Wired’s Danger Room documents the discovery of a 250 year old code complete with secret society.  Its interesting reading from a variety of perspectives and has some wonderful photographs of the text and “blindfold goggles”, but what piqued my scientific interest was the ritual involving the restoration of sight and the potential evolution of the study of vision.

Sight and the mysteries of how we see is an equally compelling story that has inspired many throughout history to form in groups to discuss and study vision.  The Greek Empedocles in the fifth century BC had his “Emission theory” of vision which evolved through the Aristotle and Galen.  Plato also maintained that the eye possessed an “inner fire”.  But it was not until Alhazen and Leonardo DaVinci that experiments were carried out and documented that we started to establish our understanding of sight.  The Oculists mentioned in this article were thought to be early gatekeepers of the study of ophthalmology who would keep “charlatans” at bay that might cause people to lose their sight.  These Oculists came after William Briggs Theory of Vision and organized themselves into one of the many secret societies that exploded throughout the world in the 18th century, some of which served as safe houses for the discussion of science and religion which did not necessarily fit within popular belief or practice.  Of course modern understanding of vision was due largely to Hermann von Helmoltz in the 19th century which gave us early color theory and perception experiments, but it would be interesting work to follow the study of ophthalmology from the Oculists in the 18th century through Helmhotz work in the 19th century as it appears to be a partially secret history documenting the early study and restoration of vision loss.