Robert Millikan, PhD

A brilliant and beloved scientist left us too early. Dr. Robert Millikan, Barbara Sorenson Hulka Distinguished Professor of Cancer Epidemiology, died Sunday, October 7. He was 55.

Dr. Robert Millikan

A member of the epidemiology faculty at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and of UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center since 1993, Dr. Millikan’s research in cancer epidemiology brought hope for better understanding and treatment of breast cancer, particularly for young African-American women who disproportionately die from the disease.

Data from UNC Lineberger’s Carolina Breast Cancer Study, which Dr. Millikan directed for more than fifteen years, demonstrated that black women under the age of 45 are more likely to be diagnosed with aggressive types of breast cancer than are women of European ancestry. The Phase III NCI program grant, which he led, will result in a better understanding of this significant health disparity by collecting information about more than 5,000 women to explore biological, environmental and epidemiologic reasons for the difference in cancer incidence.

Dr. Millikan was director of the integrative health sciences facility core at the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility. He held an adjunct professorship in the College of Veterinary medicine at North Carolina State University.

He spent the 2005-2006 academic year at University College Dublin (Ireland) as a Fulbright Scholar. In 2008, the public health school awarded him the Hulka Distinguished Professorship.

Posthumous Honors

Bob Millikan will be awarded the 2013 Alumni Achievement Award, posthumously, on Friday, June 14, 2013 at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Services & Celebrations

The Gillings School of Global Public Health and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Research Center will co-host a celebration of Bob’s life on Thursday, October 25th at 6:30 pm at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at 250 East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, NC. Please enter on the right (west) side of the Planetarium building. For more information contact: Jerry Salak, (919) 843-0661.

The funeral service for Bob Millikan, hosted by Bob’s family, will be at 2:00 on Friday, October, 26, at The Chapel of the Cross, 304 Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC.

We hope you can join us for one or both of these events to remember our good friend, Bob.

Additional information

Condolences can be sent to the family at:
Flavia Millikan
P.O. Box 535
Glen Ellen, CA 95442

If you have any photos of Bob, we’d appreciate it if you would share them with us as soon as possible for the Thursday evening celebration.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s Project LEAD® (Leadership, Education, Advocacy and Development), where Bob Millikan served for more than 15 years as a faculty member, teaching breast cancer advocates about the science of breast cancer epidemiology and genomics. Donations to Project LEAD® can be made at or by writing to: National Breast Cancer Coalition, Project LEAD® Fund in memory of Bob Millikan, 1101 17th Street NW, Suite 1300, Washington, DC 20036, or by calling 202-973-0571.

The family also suggests memorial gifts to support the Carolina Breast Cancer Study in honor of his pioneering leadership in breast cancer research. Gifts can be made payable to UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, CB #7295, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7295

Please direct photos, information and/or questions to Nancy Colvin.

Robert Millikan Tribute Fund

Dr. Robert Millikan’s former students, colleagues and friends have begun a fund in his honor, to be housed within his home department, the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

You may contribute to the fund in one of three ways:

  1. Talk personally with one of  the School’s gift advisers by calling 919-966-0219.
  2. Make a gift online with our secure donation form. Enter “Robert Millikan Tribute Fund” in the search field on the right side of the screen.
  3. Mail your check, payable to the Public Health Foundation, to Public Health Foundation, P.O. Box 309, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-0309. Please reference “Robert Millikan Tribute Fund” in the memo line.

Here, we remember his legacy and invite you to do the same.


  1. Nancy Thomas
    Posted November 2, 2012 at 8:05 am | Permalink

    I had the privilege of knowing Bob as a colleague, mentor and friend for 12 years. We collaborated on a melanoma study that he initiated in North Carolina for the Genes, Environment, and Melanoma (GEM) group. He was rigorous and practical but also conceptual and visionary. He impacted many people’s careers through collaboration, mentorship, and support. Through a melding of clinical insight and basic science understanding, he designed studies to be forward thinking and yield the best data possible. His research has provided and will continue to provide new knowledge that will help patients. On a personal level, he was generous, kind, and modest. He wanted everyone to succeed. He cared deeply about the less fortunate, disparity, and the environment. We will miss Bob.

  2. Lauren Trepanier
    Posted November 6, 2012 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

    I have collaborated with Bob for the past two years, and was shocked to learn of his death. He was a thoughtful and gentle soul.

  3. pam marcus
    Posted November 9, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    i always felt that bob believed in me, something that i rarely feel when interacting with others. perhaps that’s because he took the time and effort to acknowledge my accomplishments in a genuine manner, and gave constructive criticism in a kind, gentle way. in our hectic, super-critical world, we need more people to take the time and the risk to mention the good and not only criticize.

    since his death, i’ve learned that bob was more complicated than met the eye. i realize now that i didn’t know him very well. it saddens me that i will never get to know bob in his entirety.

  4. Taddy Dickersin
    Posted November 12, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Bob touched my life, and so many lives, in a unique way and will be remembered with great love and respect. He was committed for years to Project LEAD, and brought women with breast cancer into his own work, believing and acting on the belief that breast cancer consumers are one the the three “pillars” of breast cancer research. He was a true leader in this respect, being among the first to engage consumers as full partners in research, and made it natural to do so. I will miss his wise counsel and kind heart.

  5. Christine Friedenreich
    Posted November 18, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    It has taken me awhile to write a note as I have been so profoundly saddened by the news of Bob’s death. I first became acquainted with Bob in 2007 when he applied for an Endowed Chair in Molecular Cancer Epidemiology at the University of Calgary. Although he ultimately decided not to accept this position, we became colleagues and friends through this recruitment process. His intellect, his breadth of knowledge and his relevant work experience, as well as his vision, passion for teaching and mentoring would have made him an excellent chair holder. We still benefited from all of these qualities since he was remarkably generous and kind and his impact was truly international. I have just returned from a trips to the US and Australia where many of the epidemiologists that I met there knew Bob and were equally saddened by his passing. Hence, he clearly touched many lives and enriched all of those who had the privilege to know him and appreciate his fine character. He is deeply missed and mourned.

  6. Susan Sacks
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I was so very saddened to learn about Bob’s passing. I was on the Project LEAD faculty with Bob several times and it was such a joy to work with him and to get to know him. He loved what he did and believed in his work and in Project LEAD passionately. I will miss him as we all will…

  7. Francine Laden
    Posted December 3, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    I was very saddened to hear about Bob’s passing. I met him when we were both on environmental breast cancer working groups in the mid-1990s. He really helped me in the early stages of my career…

  8. Randy Durbin
    Posted January 7, 2013 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    I am shocked at Bob’s passing and sorry for his family’s loss. He never let his vast knowledge and intellect get in the way of his being a kind and thoughtful friend. I never would have gotten through organic chemistry at UCDavis without him being my constant tutor and mentor. We had such great times back then exercising and hanging out at the Rec Pool together. I hope your memories, like mine will keep him in our thoughts.

  9. Leah Sansbury
    Posted January 24, 2013 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Bob was exceptional in so many ways and touched so many of our lives. He was more than just a compassionate teacher and committed adviser. He was a mentor that was always available to lend a listening ear or some much needed words of encouragement, our on-call veterinary consultant, and most importantly a supportive and close friend. Bob was one of the main reasons that I chose to pursue my degree at UNC, and as my own career developed, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the enormous influence he’s had on the cancer and molecular epidemiology research world, as well as his influence on my own career. I will never forget the passion and humility he had for his research, his encouragement for the next generation of researchers and teachers, and most importantly, what he exemplified through his work and taught all of his students, to never forget the patients whose lives we all hope to improve through our own work. I am truly blessed that I had such an amazing mentor and friend. Bob, we miss you and your memories will always remain in our hearts.

  10. Lucinda Davis
    Posted May 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    I just learned about Bob’s death. I met him about 11 years ago at a Project LEAD conference. He was the sweetest and nicest person that I know. He was a very sensitive, caring and loving soul who made me feel smart and important. I am so blessed to have known him and wished I had more time. I regret not visiting him last year when I had only to turn my car around and head in his direction. Like so many others, I thought we would have more time, more opportunities. He will be dearly missed.

  11. Pam Marcus
    Posted August 23, 2013 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Tomorrow, August 24th, is/would have been Bob’s birthday. Consider making a donation in his memory to acknowledge this day.

  12. Robert Goetze
    Posted March 12, 2015 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    Please come to the Bob Millikan celebrations during March 20 – 22, 2015. Read more

  13. Will Foulkes
    Posted April 10, 2015 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    I only knew Bob briefly, and by telephone only. But from the few phone calls we had, I could easily see he was a wonderful guy. I am sure his family and friends must miss him terribly. I meant to add this comment years ago, but thinking again about the paper of his that I contributed to, I wanted to add this now.

  14. Pam Marcus
    Posted August 24, 2015 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Bob would have been 58 today.

  15. Anthony colombo
    Posted February 11, 2018 at 1:35 am | Permalink

    I never met Bob, but heard the Millikan symphony onKUSC classical radio. How did he pass. Far too young. RIP

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