Nancy Millis

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Emeritus Professor Nancy Fannie Millis AC MBE (10 April 1922 – 29 September 2012) was an Australian microbiologist, who introduced fermentation technologies to Australia, and created the first applied microbiology course taught in an Australian university.


Millis was born in Melbourne in 1922, the fifth child of six. She attended high school at Merton Hall, an Anglican grammar school for girls, but had to leave before completing her studies when her father had a heart attack. She attended business college, then worked for a customs agent and then as a technician at the CSIRO. Millis Matriculated part-time, taking two years to complete her high school studies. The University of Melbourne refused her entry into the bachelor of science; however, she could gain entry to the degree of agricultural science, in 1945 she graduated with a BAgSc, and went on to complete a master's degree studying the soil organism Pseudomonas in 1946.

Millis travelled to Papua New Guinea with the Department of External Affairs to teach women agricultural methods. However her posting was cut short due to serious illness that almost claimed her life[1] and she was airlifted to hospital in Brisbane. After recovering from her illness she applied for a Boots Research Scholarship at the University of Bristol. She spent three years at Bristol working on the fermentation of cider, and microoganisms that can affect the process. This led Nancy in her lifelong passion in anything that ferments.[2]

When she completed her PhD in 1951, Millis returned to Australia; she had hoped to work for Carlton United Brewery, but at that time they did not employ women in their laboratories. She joined the Department of Microbiology at the University of Melbourne in 1952 she worked as a demonstrator and then as a lecturer, setting up the Applied Microbiology course at the University. In 1954 Millis was awarded a Fulbright Travel Grant, she went to Hopkins Marine Station at Stanford University and worked with C B Van Neil, and then to the Institute of Applied Microbiology at the University of Tokyo.

Millis was the Chancellor of La Trobe University from 1992 until her retirement in 2006.

She died on 29 September 2012, aged 90.[3][4]


She was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Year's Honours 1977.[5] She was awarded Australia's highest civilian honour, Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), in the Queen's Birthday Honours 1990.[6]

She was awarded the Centenary Medal on 1 January 2001.[7]

She was one of six scientists featured in the 2002 Australian Legends series of postage stamps.



External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Richard McGarvie
Chancellor of La Trobe University
1992 – 2006
Succeeded by
Sylvia Walton