David E. Muller on "The Spark" A Radical Publication
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

I think this was…I don’t think that Agol and Levit were involved in that. I don’t know, maybe they were. My father was, but he didn’t want to be in the sense that he felt it would be dangerous for him in his position to get too involved. So I believe it was mainly the radical students who were of course in many cases his students, and so in that sense he got involved. I remember they, they were working… It seemed to be an almost interminable thing. This one publication called The Spark is supposed to come out. It was sitting around the house, and they were trying to figure out what to do, you know. It seemed to take forever…The Spark. And so I think he wanted to stay clear of it and not have any part of it attributed to him. But somehow or other it got him involved anyhow which probably wasn’t…but so what? I mean, why not? And so it aroused a great uproar. I think this was the beginning of his difficulty with the administration at the University of Texas which later resulted in their, much later, much later, resulted in their deciding to fire him officially. Which was sort of silly too, I think.

Well it was a radical publication and advocated things that the university was unhappy about. I don’t know exactly what they were…I didn’t read it, no.

MP: But did they work on this publication in your house?

Yeah. I remembered seeing the issues. There was some kind of a picture on the front. I remember they had these screaming headlines and so on. And that was ….But that was I think the beginning of his troubles with the university.

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)

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