119 Stocking Hall
Dennis Miller is Professor and Chair of the Department of Food Science at Cornell. He holds a joint appointment in the Division of Nutritional Sciences and is a member of the graduate fields of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition. Miller earned a PhD in nutrition from Cornell, an MS in biochemistry from the University of Washington, and a B.A. in chemistry from Augsburg College in Minnesota. MillerÕs research and teaching programs are focused on the relationships between nutrition, food science, and agriculture. He believes that the greatest challenge we face in the 21st century is to provide a sustainable, nutritionally balanced, and safe food supply to meet the needs of every person on earth without jeopardizing the future needs of an expanding world population. Miller teaches courses in food chemistry, nutrition, and sustainability. His research focuses on iron fortification of foods, iron bioavailability from diets, and the regulation of iron absorption in the intestine.
Iron deficiency is the most prevalent nutrient deficiency in the world, affecting as many as 2 billion people worldwide. In the United States, iron deficiency is most common among toddlers, adolescent girls and women of childbearing age with prevalences in these groups ranging from 9% to 11%. Consequences of iron deficiency include impaired work performance, poor educational performance, compromised immune function, and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The overall objectives of Miller’s research program are to increase knowledge about factors that influence the nutritional bioavailability of iron in foods. A variety of techniques are used including in vitro gastrointestinal digestion, cell culture, and animal models. One of the most promising approaches for preventing iron deficiency in populations is fortification of staple foods with iron. Unfortunately, however, it is often difficult to chemically fortify foods in poor countries where centralized food processing operations are lacking. An alternative to chemical fortification is being developed by a new program called HarvestPlus. HarvestPlus is a global alliance of research institutions working together to develop and distribute nutritionally enhanced staple food crops with the goal of reducing prevalences of micronutrient malnutrition in developing countries. The primary strategy of HarvestPlus is to use “biofortification” to enhance the content of bioavailable nutrients in selected crops. Biofortification involves the application of plant breeding to develop varieties of crops that contain high levels of target nutrients. Once promising varieties have been identified, nutritionists will evaluate them for nutrient bioavailability and test the best ones for nutritional efficacy in field trials. The most promising varieties will then be distributed to farmers for planting. In the first phase of the project 6 crops (wheat, rice, maize, cassava, orange-flesh sweet potato, and beans) and 3 micronutrients (iron, zinc, and beta-carotene) are being targeted. Local collaborators on the project include Ray Glahn and Ross Welch of the U.S. Plant, Soil, and Nutrition Lab, Xingen Lei of the Department of Animal Science, and Dennis Miller of the Department of Food Science.
My extension activities include answering questions from professionals in the food industry, individual consumers, extension colleagues in the Department, and the press on topics related to the nutritional quality of foods, effects of food processing on nutritional quality, and relationships between diet and health. Most of the questions are delivered either by phone or email. Occasionally, people make an appointment to visit me in my office. I do not keep track of the precise number of inquires or the dates but, on average, I get about 1 question per week and I may spend �� hour on the response. This year, I gave one invited talk for an extension audience on the topic of trans fatty acid labeling of food products (see above). I did not use any assessment tools to gage the impact of these activities.
My teaching philosophy is to help students develop learning strategies that will prepare them for achieving an in-depth understanding of data and concepts in their disciplines and that will provide a foundation for life-long learning. My approach varies depending on the student, the subject matter, and the level of the class. Our Food Choices and Issues class it targeted for non-majors with little or no background in nutrition or food science. The goal for this large class is to help students understand the popular literature on food science and nutrition and to motivate them improve the nutritional quality of their diets. We use clickers to poll students’ opinions of current issues in nutrition and food science and we ask them to conduct a nutritional evaluation of their personal diets. Our food chemistry laboratory class is designed for junior and senior food science majors. Students learn laboratory techniques through hands-on lab exercises and they develop research skills by conducting an independent research project. This involves selecting a problem, developing a hypothesis, writing a research proposal, conducting lab experiments, analyzing data, and writing a final paper in the format of an article in a peer-reviewed journal. Our Global Seminar class is designed to help students assess sustainability issues from a variety of perspectives. A case study approach to learning is employed. In addition, students share their perspectives with students at 4 partner universities (EARTH University in Costa Rica, the University of Melbourne in Australia, Uppsala University in Sweden, and Zamorano University in Honduras) through on-line discussion boards and live video conferences. Our Introduction to the Food Science Literature course is designed for our incoming graduate students. In the course, we expose students to the various research areas in our Graduate Field through lectures from selected faculty members. We also help them develop skills required for critically evaluating peer-reviewed scientific papers.