Seaford woman named state's 'Brightest Star'

by Annette C. Silva

Art and quantum physics illuminate Ruth Ellen Miller's life. The president of NoUVIR Research, Inc. will happily discourse on the pigments of a 500-year-old painting by Caravaggio or the photon particles that have robbed it of its true colors.
Miller's blending of talents is especially fortunate because she is in the business of creating fiber optic lighting for museums. In recognition of her accomplishments as the leader in museum fiber optic lighting systems, she has been named Delaware's Small Business Person of the Year. "Each award winner is an outstanding representative of Delaware's small business community," said Jayne Armstrong, district director of the Small Business Administration.
In her office north of Seaford, a short walk to NoUVIR's factory and a field's distance from the family's renovated Victorian home, Miller is surrounded by her tools: a computer covered with post-it notes, art and physics books, a drafting table, blueprints, pictures and a few pithy sayings on the walls. In an adjoining office sits her father, Jack V. Miller. "He's the rocket scientist in the family," she says.

A life of creation
Originally from Pasadena, Calif., Miller grew up drawing patents and learning quantum physics and mathematics at her father's side. Before retiring to create his own business, Jack Miller worked at Jet Propulsion Labs in California. At home he invented.
When not inventing, Ruth Ellen's father sculpted, studied art or theorized in math and physics; he was a dad who did interesting things.
"I was raised in a very creative environment," said Ruth Ellen, adding that her mother Bernice Miller "was always reading to us." The "us" includes Miller's two brothers, still in California, who chose law enforcement and the ministry as careers.
The Millers (father, mother and daughter) moved to Seaford in 1995 after three years of market research and R&D.
"I became involved with our company, Design Tech Corporation, in 1990," said Miller, "but my Dad's been doing this for years." They moved to Delaware to escape high taxes and oppressive regulations suffocating business owners in California.
After completing high school in three years, Miller entered Scripps College in Claremont, Calif., where she majored in art. "I met many artists who were broke," she said. She might have continued in commercial art, but decided she'd rather go into business with Dad. "His requisite for letting me join the company was to earn my degree in Small Business Management at California Polytech University," said Miller, who took over as president in 1990.

The business of preservation
Since then, father and daughter have been inventing, manufacturing, marketing and often overseeing installation of museum fiber optic lighting systems. Ruth Ellen and her father have 16 patents for lighting configurations they conceived. The company name, NoUVIR, stands for no UV (UltraViolet), no IR (InfraRed). Ultraviolet (light) and infrared (heat) energies cause fading and photochemical damage to documents and pigments.
"Both laboratory and museum testing have proven NoUVIR lighting systems extend the exhibit life of photosensitive artifacts from 3 to 5 times compared to typical museum lighting," NoUVIR's catalog states.
NoUVIR counts many major art museums from coast to coast as clients. They have installed fiber optic lighting systems in national and international science and history museums, including the Smithsonian Institute, the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress.
Priceless artifacts illuminated by the Millers include Abraham Lincoln's drafts of the Gettysburg Address and the Emancipation Proclamation, Thomas Jefferson's hand-written draft of the Declaration of Independence, John Brown's sword and Bible, Pre-Colombian gold and jade exhibits, a Shakespeare manuscript, paleontology exhibits of fighting dinosaurs in dioramas and even Jackie Robinson's WW II lieutenant's uniform.

Rocket science as preservation
"The physical process in photochemical damage that causes the fabric of fine textiles to fade is the same physics found in a hydrogen bomb when it blows up," Miller said. Quite a concept— fortunately the form and scale differ considerably.
To translate theories of quantum physics to language clients can comprehend is another of the Millers' challenges. They offer seminars for museum preservationists in which Jack Miller refers to photons as "pirates who are destructive and rarely, if ever, accomplish anything good."
In a museum, the pirates are the light wavelengths that affect color pigments. "If photons are not reflected from a pigment molecule, they are absorbed," Miller wrote in his research paper, "Light and Matter: The Dangerous Romance."
What they do at NoUVIR is "remove everything that doesn't give light," said Ruth Ellen. Attempting to shed light on phenomena foreign to a non-scientist, she spoke of an ordinary light bulb.
"The amount of light we actually see when the bulb is lit is approximately 6 percent of its total energy."
The remaining 94 percent of energy, in the form of UV and IR photon particles, is absorbed by surrounding objects that are being relentlessly degraded by them. This is not the case with fiber optic light systems. "We filter out all of the UV and IR that destroys pigments and documents."
Miller said they plan to expand NoUVIR's market into residential and commercial illumination. They've installed fiber optic systems in their Victorian home.
This would please Gov. Caleb Ross, one of the mansion's early owners, if he were here today to see the gentle pure-white light enhancing the original stone fireplaces and handcrafted woodwork.
NoUVIR's products include fiber optic projectors and systems; fiber rolls and kits; fiber optic luminaires; fiber optic tracks, rails and signs; and close-up luminaires for miniatures.
One of Miller's latest inventions is the Case Internal Circulation Unit called Air-Safe. When an Air-Safe system is connected, air exchange with the gallery is stopped.
Air is exchanged with the system where it is filtered, humidity-controlled and returned to the case. Objects inside have a cleaner environment than a hospital operating room.
Miller and other state winners will be honored by President Bill Clinton and SBA Administrator Aida Alvarez during SBA's National Small Business Week events from May 21-24.