Hermann J. Muller: IU Nobelist

From New York to Texas

Muller to Julian Huxley on Texas

Even in the early 1900s Texas was famous for its cowboy attitude and conservative politics. In this letter to Julian Huxley, Muller delicately expresses some of his reservations.

Returning from Woods Hole, Muller continued his Drosophila work at Columbia, but there was no permanent position for him and he went back to Texas when the University of Texas at Austin offered him a professorship in 1920.

Tiny data notebook containing linkage data on the third chromosome

Scientists had to keep track of vast amounts of data without excel. This selection from a tiny notebook written in Muller's cramped handwriting, illustrates the extreme lengths sometimes required. The complete notebook, which is smaller than a deck of cards, can be found in the collection.

It was here the foci that would characterize his career took shape - namely, mutation, the nature of the gene, and the use of genetics to help humanity. It was also here Muller performed the research for which he would be awarded the Nobel prize.

Muller and Altenburg spent the summer of 1922 in Europe, touring and (particularly for Muller) developing contacts with laboratories and universities. Especially notable were several weeks Muller spent in the newly formed Soviet Union. Not many scientists had been Bolsheviks before the revolution, but the new government took a light hand with them. The priority, for the moment, was modernizing the economy rather than enforcing ideological purity. Muller found the scientists optimistic and exuberant about their research, and gifted some Drosophila strains to the Soviet geneticist Alexander Serebrovsky. Muller's visit led to enduring connections with Russion geneticists and greatly aided the development of fly genetics in the USSR.

Muller to Edgar Altenberg on birth of Muller's son David

In this letter to Edgar Altenburg, Muller celebrates the birth of his son David.

Back in the States he married Dr. Jessie Marie Jacobs, a mathematician he originally met when he asked her for help with data analysis. Their child, David, was born in 1924. Illustrating the Texas political sentiments that had long bothered Muller, the mathematics department fired Dr. Jacobs Muller when she became pregnant, on the grounds that she could not adequately attend to both motherhood and a career. Brilliant and motivated, this haunted her for years to come and was a factor in the demise of their marriage. 

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