Obituary: Peter Miller

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The Independent Online
A life-long interest in natural history, combined with outstanding ability and a commitment to excellence, enabled Peter Miller to make impressive contributions to four fields of endeavour: zoological research, education, nature conservation and personal relationships. His research, for which he was recognised internationally, was distinguished by an unusual, exceptionally productive application of his talent for exploring connections bet- ween physiology, behaviour and ecology.

After completing his National Service in 1951 he attended Downing College, Cambridge, obtaining First Class Honours in Part One and Part Two Zoology of the Natural Sciences Tripos and being awarded the Frank Smart Prize for Zoology. During his PhD work that followed he held a Junior Research Fellowship at Downing College. From 1959 to 1962 he was a Lecturer in the Zoology Department of Makerere College, Kampala, Uganda (now Makerere University), thus establishing his strong and lasting affection for the tropics, subsequently manifest in visits to many countries, often with members of his family, visting zoologists in universities and studying insects.

In 1962 Miller left Uganda to become Lecturer in Zoology at Oxford University, where from 1964 until his retirement in 1994 he was Fellow and Tutor at the Queen's College. At Oxford he soon became widely respected for the excellence of his research on insects, being awarded the prestigious Medal of the Zoological Society of London in 1972. Until the early 1980s he explored physiology and neural control, primarily of respiration but also of rhythmic and motor behaviour, ventilation and learning. His international standing at that time is reflected in the authorship of more than a dozen chapters on these topics in different definitive textbooks on insect physiology. During those years he also published on insect behaviour in the field and edited two symposium volumes on cell biology.

From the early 1980s Miller focused his research on dragonflies, a group of insects for which he had developed a strong affection while in Uganda. His highly developed skills - for interpreting subtle elements of behaviour, for micro-anatomical dissection and for quantifying neural processes - allowed him to reveal much of the structural and behavioural framework on which dragonfly reproduction is based. This work has far-reaching comparative value and provides a definitive reference point for future contributions to the field.

Other products of his interest in dragonflies have been his stimulation and training of postgraduate students, authorship of two editions of a book on British dragonflies - a model of its genre - and active participation in the British Dragonfly Society, as Vice President and as member of the Dragonfly Conservation Group. Increasingly in later years Miller's energies were directed towards conservation of dragonflies and their habitats, especially through facilitating involvement of young people and non-specialists. Those who knew this will derive satisfaction from the knowledge that a memorial appeal will further the aims in education, research and conservation to which he was dedicated.

During retirement Miller had planned to spend several months each year working at Makerere University, teaching entomology and collecting material for a proposed book on dragonflies of Uganda. For this endeavour he had been awarded a Professorship by the Third World Academy of Science. It was while in Uganda in February that he was struck down by the illness that caused his death in Oxford a few weeks later.

Besides being a talented researcher and teacher, Peter Miller possessed other qualities that commanded respect and affection and that enhanced his effectiveness - as a critic, advocate and innovator. Though presenting ideas lucidly and persuasively, he was unfailingly courteous and gentle; and he exhibited charm and generosity of spirit.

Peter is survived by his widow Kate, also a biologist, a daughter and a son, to all of whom he was devoted and from whom he received consistent love and support. An abiding memory for friends who visited the family will be the warmth and stimulus of their hospitality.

Philip Corbet

Peter Miller, entomologist, conservationist: born Edinburgh 20 May 1931; Fellow, Queen's College, Oxford 1964-94, Dean of Graduates 1972-94; Scientific Medallist, Zoological Society of London 1972; married 1959 Kate Palmer (one son, one daughter); died Oxford 24 March 1996.