Sunday, September 24, 2017

About Miles

Miles Miles Coburn (1949-2008) was a biology professor at John Carroll University, working a few hundred yards from the home where he grew up as the second-oldest of seven siblings and a few blocks from his home with his wife and two children.

As an ichthyologist, his research focused on “how morphology of cyprinid fishes can be used to infer evolutionary relationships among them.” He was a field biologist, seining rivers, streams, and gullies to collect minnows. He cleared and stained the specimens, then spent hours studying and comparing their tiny bones and scales at the microscope and in enlarged photographs. As computer technology advanced, he was able to confirm his observations with DNA studies as well.

Miles’ research involved his students, his family, his local environment, and international collaborators: with his graduate students, Miles reintroduced native species to the local Doan Brook Watershed; with his son’s Eagle Scout project, he assessed the success of the project. At the time of his death, Miles was a primary collaborator on The Tree of Life project, an international study of various aspects of the biology of cypriniformes.

As a news junkie, he followed politics and world events by daily reading the New York Times and gaining international perspectives from online news sources. This broad knowledge coupled with his scientific expertise led him to become an early and passionate advocate to stop global climate change. Those who disagreed with him quickly found he could back his opinions with the most up-to-date scientific facts. His family and friends first heard of the global climate crisis from Miles a decade before Al Gore brought it to the nation at large. In 2006, Miles collaborated with other faculty and organizations to bring a multidisciplinary symposium on climate change to his university. He also initiated a course on global climate change and the inclusion of the topic in the freshman seminar. He personally acted on the global climate crisis by walking or biking everywhere, changing light bulbs to fluorescent, turning down the hot water heater, wearing a sweater rather than turning up the heat in the winter, and educating others.

Miles was an expert bicyclist, often cycling 300 miles a week on a bike he built from scratch. On Sundays, he joined an ever-changing group of bicyclists for a two- or three-hour ride. After his death in a bicycle accident in August, 2008, his family, friends, and colleagues spontaneously organized a bicycle ride where 600 riders showed up by word of mouth. Ride for Miles, Inc. was subsequently founded to educate people about bicycle safety and the environment.