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


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




Obtains a teaching fellowship in physiology at Cornell Medical College

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


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.

The Making of a Geneticist

In 1981, Elof Carlson published Genes, Radiation, and Society: The Life and Work of H.J. Muller, a biography written after extensive research in Hermann Muller’s private papers. Carlson also worked closely with Thea Muller, Muller’s second wife, to ensure that accuracy and personal detail of his book. During his talk, Dr. Carlson gave an overview of Muller’s life based on insights drawn from his original research and his own experience as Muller’s student. Carlson stressed the many dimensions of Muller’s life and personality. “We are different people to family, friends, colleagues, and critics,” he said.


Elof Carlson is a scientist and historian who studied under Hermann Muller at Indiana University, earning his Ph.D. in zoology in 1958. He taught in the biology department of Stony Brook University for many years, retiring in 2000. A prolific writer, he has authored many books and articles, including a biography of Muller.

Earns B.A. from Columbia University


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


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

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

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


Muller in Russia: From Thieving Liars to Ruthless Murderers

James Schwartz’s research on Muller has stretched from the United States to Russia, where he completed work in the archives of the KGB. Dr. Schwartz examined Muller’s time living in the Stalin era of the Soviet Union, focusing on the strain put on Muller’s first marriage and emotional health during this period. In early January 1932, Muller even attempted suicide, and Schwartz showed a copy of Muller’s suicide note to the audience.


James Schwartz is a historian of science and was the 2007-2008 recipient of the Sydney Brenner Scholarship at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Dr. Schwartz has conducted significant research into Hermann Muller’s life, including work in Russian archives and lengthy interviews with Muller’s son David. Among other work, he is the author of In Pursuit of the Gene: From Darwin to DNA, published in 2008 by Harvard University Press.

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

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


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


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


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


The Indiana Years

James Watson was a doctoral student at Indiana University in the late 1940s, and while there was profoundly inspired by Muller and other geneticists like Salvador Luria. Dr. Watson discussed his time as a student of Muller’s at Indiana, saying he attended Muller’s lectures “with great enthusiasm.” He remembered his teacher as an “intelligent” man “not given to small talk.” Muller, a social and political activist, had a “keen interest in what we do with genetic knowledge,” Watson said. His interest in biology was practical, not just theoretical. Earlier in the evening, Watson had described Muller as “the most important geneticist of the 20th century.”


James Watson is a renowned geneticist and, as a graduate student at Indiana University, a student of Muller’s. In 1953, he co-discovered the chemical structure of DNA, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. Watson led the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as its director from 1968 to 1994, expanding both its size and reputation as a world-class research center in the biological sciences.




































The Women in Muller’s Life, Professionally and Personally

Helen Muller, who was born when Hermann Muller was well into his fifties, described her presence at the event as an “emotional experience.” She spoke about her father’s personal and professional relationships with women throughout his life. Muller surrounded himself with women who were well ahead of the contemporary social mores. His two marriages, for instance, were non-traditional for the time in that both spouses were highly educated women—a mathematician and a medical doctor. Muller helped many women throughout his career. He was also no stranger to working with them, having done so during his time in Russia. Helen Muller was keen to emphasize her father’s intellect, including his love for both ancient and modern world history, a store of knowledge she called “astonishing.”


Helen Muller, the daughter of Hermann Muller, received her Ph.D. from the University of Southern California, studying applied behavioral sciences. She is an emeritus professor at the University of New Mexico, Anderson School of Management, where she taught and wrote about organizational studies, behavior, and public health for many years.


Father and Son

The theme of fathers and sons has been immortalized in literature through such works as Ivan Turgenev’s novel of the same name. It is often easy to forget that scientists are human beings with families beyond the laboratory. Mila Pollock spoke about Muller’s complicated relationship with his son, the late David E. Muller, a mathematician and computer scientist. In 2004, Pollock conducted an oral history interview with David and showed video clips from their discussion. David described his father’s peculiar parenting style and the often difficult time he had liking his father. A year after granting the interview, David Muller donated an important collection of his father’s letters to the CSHL Archives.



Mila Pollock has been Executive Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Library & Archives since 1999 and of the Genentech Center for the History of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology since 2006. Under her guidance, the CSHL Archives has expanded to become one of the most significant collections of original documents relating to the history of molecular biology, biotechnology, and genetics. As part of the library’s oral history collection, she has conducted interviews with several dozen renowned scientists and figures connected to CSHL. One was David Muller, Hermann Muller’s son, who donated a collection of his father’s letter to the Laboratory’s archives in 2005

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