University of Rochester

Professor Awarded $60,000 Teaching-Scholar Honor in Chemistry

August 13, 2001

The 2001 Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, designed to strengthen the teaching and research careers of young faculty researchers, has been won by Benjamin Miller, assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Rochester. Miller's research, including work on the development of a bandage that can alert the wearer to the presence of harmful bacteria, earned him the $60,000 honor.

Miller won the award because of his work in synthesizing molecules that can bind with only certain types of sugar molecules. The research can be used to help create vaccines against disease or to design food packaging that can identify when the food has been contaminated. "What complicates this research is that different sugars look very, very similar, chemically," says Miller. "And to make it worse, they all look very much like water." He's been working on finding receptors that can differentiate between different kinds of sugars for about five years, and has made an innovation called a "smart bandage."

The smart bandage is like any other adhesive bandage you'd place on a cut, but this one will be able to identify if there are harmful bacteria present in the wound. Currently, Miller has a working model of a sand-grain-sized detector that can tell whether a bacterium is Gram negative or Gram positive-a first step in deciding which type of antibiotics are needed. The detector is the first major improvement in differentiating the two groups of bacteria since the Gram test was devised more than a century ago.

Miller plans to use the award to search for more ways to detect bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and terapathogenic E. coli.

Though only one researcher can be nominated from any given institution, three of this year's 15 award recipients have University of Rochester connections. In addition to Miller, Matthew Shair of Harvard University, who was honored for his work in the synthesis of complex molecules, was an undergraduate student at the University of Rochester, while Philip Bevilacqua of Pennsylvania State University, honored for research into the way a certain ribosome folds, earned his doctorate at Rochester.

The Camille Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award was founded in 1969 to encourage young faculty members' research in the chemical sciences while maintaining a solid commitment to the education of students.