Fire company will celebrate 100 years in the community, whatever it is

By Lynn R. Parks

She loves science. She loves art. The problem, as a young woman recently out of college, was to find a career in which she could enjoy both. Ruth Ellen Miller was able to do just that. And do it so successfully that in 2000, six years after forming her company, she was named Delaware’s Small Business Person of the Year by the Small Business Administration and this year was named Business Person of the Year by the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce. “She is definitely deserving of this award,” said Paula Gunson, executive director of the chamber. “She is creative as well as technical and is involved in the community.”

Miller, 39, is president of Nouvir Research, Seaford, which provides high-quality fiber optic lighting for museums throughout the United States. Its products are based on designs innovated by Miller and her father, Jack, who is Nouvir vice president of engineering. “I wanted to do science and I wanted to do art and this is a blend of both,” Ruth Ellen Miller said. “I get to see some of the finest art in the world and get to work to help save it.” Gets to see fine art, because her company has designed lighting for exhibits in several Smithsonian exhibits, in the Baseball Hall of Fame, in the National Cathedral and National Archives. Saves it because Nouvir lighting contains no ultraviolet or infrared light, both of which generate heat and with that heat, deteriorate that on which they shine.

“We are really changing things,” Miller said. “Things are coming out of archives, things they couldn’t show before for very long, and are being put on exhibit.” Those things include Thomas Jefferson’s hand-written draft of the Declaration of Independence, and Abraham Lincoln’s draft of the Gettysburg Address and of the Emancipation Proclamation, all of which are lit by Nouvir’s lighting. Nouvir lighting also illuminates George Washington’s Bible, a Gutenberg Bible, Faberge eggs, Tiffany diamonds, John Brown’s sword and Bible, a Shakespeare manuscript (lit by a fiber optic strand fit into a brass candle), Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Charlton Heston’s costumes from Ben Hur and baseball uniforms of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams and Bob Feller.

“We just did lighting for the Smithsonian’s triceratops and diceratops,” a recently-discovered fossil that may be a new species or may be a triceratops with only two horns, Miller said. “The bones stay much cleaner because all that heat is not there, stirring up the dust.” Miller grew up in southern California, of which her father and her mother, Bernice, are natives. She left high school after her junior year to attend Scripps College, Claremont, as an art major. But she met too many artists who were struggling to earn livings.

"I went to my dad and told him that I didn’t want to starve to death,” she said. She agreed to work with him in his consulting business, which did research and development for large corporations, and in exchange, he got to handle her college career. Under his direction, she went to California Polytechnic Institute, where she studied advanced marketing and finance and from which she graduated in three years with a bachelor’s degree in small business management. While working with her father, she became involved in efforts to create a museum focusing on American history. Five years after the museum opened, its organizers were having trouble with decay of its artifacts. “And they did not scrimp on their lighting either,” she said. “They had spent big bucks, and their papers, cloths and manuscripts were becoming very fragile and could no longer be put on display.”

Miller then heard a speaker at the annual meeting of the Illuminating Engineers Society talking about the deteriorative effects of incandescent and fluorescent lighting. He talked about Benjamin Franklin’s coat, which in the years it has been on display has turned from coffee brown to tan in color. “That would have been quite a fashion faux pas for Ben Franklin to go to Europe in a tan coat,” Miller said. “But the coat that is on display is tan.” Miller approached her father and told him that she wanted to design a light that would not damage artifacts. “I wanted to work with museum lighting,” she said. “I wanted to solve this problem because it is getting worse. I wanted to save art.” The elder Miller, who was approaching retirement, told his daughter that he would help her. “But he told me I had to be president,” Ruth Ellen Miller said. Father and daughter spent three and a half years working on their lighting system. They had to perfect the creation of light without ultraviolet and infrared beams. They had to find a way to shoot it through acrylic tubing without burning the tubes. They also had to invent reflectors to prevent the light from scattering and lenses to adjust the size of the beam.

Nouvir moved from California to Delaware in 1995, after the Millers began to feel oppressed by state regulation and paperwork. “There is a lot of bureaucracy in California,” Ruth Ellen Miller said. “Delaware, with its low taxes, quality of life and lack of bureaucracy is perfect.” They selected Seaford because its chamber sent to them an information package about the area. “We are very happy,” Ruth Ellen Miller said. “The business is very successful.” It does about $1 million worth of business annually, her father added. And then there is that whole science/art combination, the very thing she was looking for even as she, with her father’s help, selected her college courses. “I’m doing what I love,” Miller said. “We are really making a difference.”

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