Letting Her Light Do More Than Shine

Capturing sunlight at the KSU Solar House

by Alison Kitto

“And God said, ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’” Ruth Douglas Miller, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Kansas State University, writes this verse from Genesis on the board as she explains Maxwell’s equations and Coulomb’s Law. She wants her students to recognize that electromagnetic theory relies on an assumption that the world’s physical properties never change. For Ruth, these universal constants are the hallmark of a consistent and reliable God who constructed the universe. When Ruth herself was an undergraduate, she fell in love with circuits because, as she puts it, “V really does equal IR all the time!”

After her doctoral work in biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester, Miller researched the health effects of magnetic fields, but as Ruth notes, “The field dried up.” Today, amidst the burgeoning “Go Green” movement, Miller’s work focuses on renewable energy, particularly wind and solar power.

In 2007, the National Renewable Energy Lab approached Miller about developing a wind energy program at Kansas State University. Its mission was to educate electrical engineers and promote wind energy in Kansas. As the program director, Ruth oversees the Kansas Wind for Schools program, which has installed 13 wind turbines at rural public schools.

Installing a Skystream turbine at KSU. Miller is wearing the yellow hardhat, and her students are in purple shirts

Ruth’s engineering undergraduates gain substantial experience by assisting with the installation, monitoring, and maintenance of each unit. Though the economical Skystream turbines only produce small amounts of energy (2 kilowatts each), learning opportunities abound.

Every day, children at schools equipped with the turbines can view graphs of voltage, wind speed, and power production. Introducing them to sustainability as freshmen increases their awareness of the realities of renewable energy technology. They also learn the importance of developing a smart grid to digitally monitor real-time energy consumption and enable consumers to moderate their usage. Under Miller’s guidance, the Wind for Schools program has been a great success. It has increased acceptance for wind energy statewide, motivated struggling students, and inspired many young people to pursue careers in renewable energy. Plans are underway to install five new turbines per year at public schools across Kansas.

A Skystream turbine for the Wind for Schools program

Since 2007, over 1000 megawatts of large-scale wind energy have been installed in Kansas. But this is just the beginning—the renewable energy potential of the state is much greater. A 2010 program called Resourceful Kansas is promoting a fundamental shift toward a less energy intensive, more efficient economy. Miller’s partners on the project have installed four wind turbines, two types of photovoltaic cells, and a solar hot water system at the Riley County Public Works facility in Manhattan, Kansas. The facility will host workshops for government and public organizations interested in energy conservation. Resourceful Kansas will also develop model towns to predict production curves and maintain sustainable loads if the town loses connection with the main power grid.

The United States consumes 25-30% of global energy for roughly 4% of the world’s population, and non-renewable, heavy-polluting coal power plants produce 50% of our nation’s electricity. For us to be responsible stewards of God’s creation, Ruth envisions a future in which America cuts its use of coal in half and produces 30% of our energy through renewable resources by 2050. Also, despite the public’s heightened fear of nuclear accidents, she hopes our country will double our nuclear power production to further offset our dependence on coal.

Ruth Miller at the ribbon cutting ceremony for Resourceful Kansas

Ruth joined the ASA in 1984 through her husband, ASA member Keith Miller, whom she met at the University of Rochester. In graduate school, they met many Christians in medicine and science who were asking “difficult questions of life and death” related to their research fields. Ruth felt energized by these discussions and found ways to connect her work with her faith. At KSU, she enjoys the company of many fellow Christian engineers – at least half of the department members share her faith. In some Christian circles, however, Miller has had to defend her decision to pursue a career as a scientist rather than be a stay-at-home mother for her 13-year-old son. “But God has given me the brains, the money, and the students to work with,” she explains. Miller’s stewardship of the environment and her personal integrity set an example that her engineering students can aspire to.

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