Recorded: 15 Jul 2004
I stayed in his [Max Delbrück’s] house once for a couple of weeks or so – so what years was I at Caltech? Okay, I started in ’42 and continued until ’44 when I was drafted. Then tried to return as soon as I got out of the service. The time was wrong in the semester. I was only able to return in September of ’46. Yeah, so I got out in March of ’46 and I wasn’t able to return until September. I finally graduated with a Ph.D. in ’51, and stayed an extra year as a post doc. Then I went to Illinois.
Stayed in Illinois until I retired in ’92, so that was about 40 years.
BS: So what did you study at Caltech?
Well, I studied a lot. I was involved in this physics business with Jesse DuMond at the time I was there. But I wanted to go into mathematics so that’s what I did when I went to Illinois.
David E. Muller was born in 1924 in Austin, Texas. He is the son of Hermann J. Muller, who received a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery of x-ray induced mutations in Drosophila melanogaster, and Jesse Jacobs Muller Offermann, a mathematician and first wife of H.J. Muller.
In the 1930’s, H.J. Muller left his laboratory at the University of Texas to work at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin. He then moved to Russia where he joined the Institute of Genetics and later the Institute of Animal Genetics in Edinburgh. During this time, David and his mother traveled to Germany and Russia to visit his father. After H.J. Muller’s return to the United States in 1940, David reunited with his father at the 1941 Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Symposium for Quantitative Biology. Afterward, David returned to school at Caltech and H.J. Muller to his appointments at Amherst College (1940-1945) and Indiana University (1945-1967).
Following in his mother’s footsteps, David became a mathematician and began working with computers at the University of Illinois in 1952. There he designed the Muller C-element, which is a commonly used component in computers. He taught at the University of Illinois until 1992 at which time he retired.
In April 2005, David donated his collection of photographs and personal letters written primarily by his parents and Carlos Offermann (one of H.J. Muller’s top graduate students and David’s step-father) to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Archives. The letters were written between 1900 and 1945, although the bulk of the letters date from the early 1920’s when H.J. Muller took his first trip to Europe and the 1930’s when H.J. Muller was working in Germany, Russia, and the UK. These letters also cover the period of time when H.J. Muller made his Nobel-winning discoveries.
(Anthony Dellureficio, June, 2008)