Girl’s own adventure
Most days Emeritus Professor Nancy Millis arrives at her office at the University of Melbourne at approximately 9.30am. She drives from her home in Brighton to the University for a full day’s work. Professor Millis recently celebrated her 90th birthday. It is a stage in life when she can say and do whatever she likes!
Her office at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology is testament to a life of learning, teaching and research. On top of a pile of journals and papers is a much-thumbed copy of the concise Oxford dictionary. By her own admission, Professor Millis is not a strong speller and her cherished volume offers instant comfort.
While not opposed to technology that assists with communications (such as a computer), Professor Millis maintains that nothing replaces the value of people talking to one another. “I want to see the whites of peoples’ eyes,” she says.
Professor Millis has had a long and distinguished career in industrial microbiology, particularly the science of fermentation, used to make beer and cider. She has been recognised and honoured by nations and peers alike for her work in developing courses, maximising links between universities and industries, and for a lifetime devoted to science and innovation.
At the moment, Professor Millis is busy examining several issues. She has a long-standing interest in water quality and quantity. She is keeping an eye on the water industry that oversees the water we drink and its uses in agriculture.
Her other current passion is Parks Victoria where she is keen to witness the science that Park Managers can bring to bear on how our parks are managed. She applauds the fact that 15 per cent of the surface area in Victoria is national park and argues that governments should be allocating appropriate resources to enable effective management. Her passions are topics that are of international as well as local importance.
Professor Millis is quick to pay homage to the teachers (all men in her day) at the University of Melbourne who inspired her in the first instance and how they created in her, a critically inquisitive person. The University fostered an entry into the world of research and to this day, she maintains: “Research is about the sharing of knowledge.”
This commitment to research was established early in her career when in the 1960s she travelled to Japan and collaborated with an American bio-engineer and a Japanese chemical engineer to create the first course and text-book in bio-technology.
“I went to Japan to work on continuous culture and quickly established that much could be achieved by the combination of our various talents and interests,” she says.
As she reflects on her 90 years of innovative research and intrepid travels to some of the most inaccessible locations (including working in Papua New Guinea in the 1940s), Professor Millis remains enthusiastic about the wonders of this age. Medical care and good health are examples of the marvels of scientific advances that Professor Millis welcomes.
Walking around the University, she is glad to see so many young women on campus. She celebrates the achievements of women in academic life generally but in particular women entering science. “I am here to spread the word. Science advances only as long as new hypotheses are put forward.”
At the distinguished age of 90, after an impressive academic career as a scientist and trailblazer, Emeritus Professor Millis insists that her story and journey is not unusual. It is now up to the next generation of women academics to continue on the path she has prepared.