David E. Muller on Work in Early Computers at the University of Illinois
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

I became interested in mathematics because my mother was a mathematician. Not just a mathematician, but a very good one. And she inspired me, and so I became interested in that and went into it eventually. And taught at the University of Illinois until 1992 at which time I retired. And then I left Illinois in 1994. So that’s essentially it. I became involved with the computer work at Illinois in 1952. And ah, worked on the theoretical aspects of computers after that time mainly. Well they were just starting. But as I mentioned to Alex, I guess it was, or somebody yesterday. Why there were earlier ones in England, in Cambridge. And one of the people who had worked on an earlier computer called the EDSAC came there. His name…came to us in Illinois from there. His name was David Wheeler. He was a remarkable guy, and he’s still doing active mathematical work. He’s about my age. But he’s really a remarkable person.

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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