David E. Muller on Vavilov Visits the Mullers in Austin
  David E. Muller     Biography    
Recorded: 15 Jul 2004

Yeah. That …I remember that very well. I think that was the time Vavilov came specifically for the purpose of suggesting that my father go and work at the Academy of Sciences in, at that time in Leningrad. And asked him to stay a year after his year in Germany, see. So this must have been probably in ’32 or even earlier, maybe. I was asking Jim Schwartz…maybe ’31. It was after the three students came. I’m pretty sure. That’s the way my memory remembers it. But Jim Schwartz may have details from the letters that show otherwise. But I think though that’s correct. Partly because I remember it even more clearly and I know that it was well after the other people had come. And in fact he came in the morning I remember, that was unusual. Because most of them came in the evening. In fact he was sitting in the breakfast, in our dining room there. And there was bright sunshine out there were glass doors and windows behind him, you know. He was talking… and he addressed me and I guess it was mentioned in the notes there he asked me, “How do you like the Bolsheviks? What do you think of them?”, you know. He said, “Are they okay?” I had led a rather sheltered life with my parents. I didn’t know slang. I didn’t know okay. I had to ask what that meant. Vavilov was very surprised that I wouldn’t know such a thing. But anyhow I guess I agreed they were okay. And so we had a very interesting conversation. As you know Vavilov an extremely interesting person, very charismatic, and he had a particular ability to lead people. He was, he would inspire them and get them to do interesting things, you see. So he was a remarkable person. Many people I guess have written about him too. But it was exciting to see him. And now let’s see…there was something else I …

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)