CSHL Library

Attends CSH Symposia Genes and Chromosomes: Structure and Organization & reunites with his son David




Recommends a genetic enlightenment to produce healthier, wiser and more caring offspring

Earns PhD in Zoology from Columbia University


Hermann J. Muller

Nobel Laureate,

Geneticist & Social

Scientific Activist

Born on December 21st in NYC to parents H. J. Muller, Sr., & Frances Lyons Muller


Graduates valedictorian of Morris High School (NYC) and enters Columbia University – only through the unexpected award of a scholarship, automatically granted to him on the basis of entrance examination grades


Obtains a teaching fellowship in physiology at Cornell Medical College

Earns B.A. from Columbia University


Becomes instructor of zoology at Columbia where he elaborates methods for quantitative mutation study


Obtains critical evidence of the abundant production of gene mutations and chromosome changes by X-rays


Moves to Berlin, Germany, on  a Guggenheim Fellowship where he worked with Timofeef-Ressovsky, Zimmer, and others. Work cut short by Hitler’s ascendance


Moves to Leningrad (Saint Petersburg), Russia, to study genetics establishes a laboratory as Senior Geneticist at the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USRR. Begins study of quantitative radiation dose-frequency relations & also uses chromosomal rearrangements to study gene size and function

Signs the Russell-Einstein Manifesto along with Max Born, Albert Einstein, Linus Pauling, Bertrand Russell & others issued at a press conference in London, England, and sent to leaders of nations that possessed nuclear weapons, or were capable of possessing them at that time.

Presents his last paper at the International Congress of Human Genetics in Chicago “What Genetic Course Will Man Steer?”

H.J. Muller at the 1941 CSHL Symposia during which he conducted experiments with his flies in an old wine cellar from which the original bottles & barrels had been removed

Hermann Joseph Muller was a pathbreaking geneticist and dedicated social activist. A cosmopolitan figure, his career was an intriguing mix of world travel, scientific discovery, and controversy. During his time, Muller was not only an internationally renowned scientist but a brave defender of his ideals. Nobel Laureate James Watson, a former student of Muller’s, has called him “the most important geneticist of the 20th century.”


Born in 1890 in New York City, Muller was the valedictorian of his high school before earning a scholarship to Columbia University, where he earned his undergraduate degree. While at Columbia, he connected with the legendary geneticist Thomas Hunt Morgan, whose group, which included Calvin Bridges and Alfred Sturtevant, conducted research on Drosophila (fruit flies).


In 1916, Muller earned his Ph.D. from Columbia. He then taught at Columbia, the Rice Institute, and the University of Texas at Austin, focusing on the study of mutation. In 1927, he published important findings on how X-rays induce gene mutations—work that would serve as his most important scientific achievement.


In 1932, Muller moved to Berlin on a Guggenheim Fellowship. The rise of the Nazis in Germany, however, cut short his time in that country. In 1933 he moved to the Russian city of Saint Petersburg (then known as Leningrad) to continue his research as the senior geneticist at the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The following year he moved to Moscow.

As both a scientist and activist, Muller had a lifelong affinity for eugenics, which has now fallen into disrepute. Though he was firmly on the political Left, Muller was at odds with the authoritarian Russian government. His opposition to Lysenkoism, the politicized genetics of the Soviet Union, increasingly marginalized him. Ever defiant, he wrote a long letter to dictator Josef Stalin in May 1936, defending his scientific ideas and, consequently, attracting even more negative attention to himself. A copy of this letter is in the Lilly Library at Indiana University.


He left Russia in 1937. In a stunning addition to the life of a scientist, he traveled to Spain to fight in the Spanish Civil War, enlisting as a volunteer in the International Brigade. He then lived briefly in Paris before working at the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland.


After several more temporary positions, Muller finally found full-time work in 1945 on the zoology faculty of Indiana University, Bloomington. The following year, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on the mutagenic effects of X-rays. Muller continued teaching at Indiana until his retirement in 1964. He died of congestive heart failure in 1967.


The Henry J. Muller event took
place at CSHL Library and Archives
on February 25th, 2015







Founds a students’ biology club, which was participated in by Edgar Altenburg, & two students, Calvin Bridges & Alfred Sturtevant who had entered Columbia a year later





Begins teaching biology at the Rice Institute in Houston, invited by Julian Huxley



Begins working at the University of Texas, Austin as Associate Professor, teaching mainly genetics & evolution & conducting research mainly on mutation








Publishes findings on how X-rays produce gene mutations




Moves to Moscow to continue the same work & studies as Senior Geneticist at the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, with considerable staff of co-workers





Following the arrest of his associate Solomon Levit & rejecting the politicized genetics of the USSR, Muller enlists in the Spanish Revolution to temporarily move to Madrid, then to Paris to work in Boris Ephrussi’s lab, then visits Julian Huxley at the London Zoo, then moves to Edinburgh to work under FAE Crew, Director of the University of Edinburgh









Receives Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for showing that X-rays can induce mutations



Takes a trip around the world, visits Hiroshima & meets with Japanese emperor





Passes away from congestive heart failure at the age of 77 in Indianapolis, Indiana



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