© The Nobel Foundation
Herman Joseph Muller

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Herman Joseph Muller:
Nobel Prize in Medicine

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Herman Joseph Muller was an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, in 1946, for the discovery of the production of mutations by means of x-ray irradiation.

He was born on December 21, 1890, in New York City. His father died when he was 10 years. He was left with his mother, Frances Lyons Muller, and his sister Ada. His mother’s families were descendants from the Spanish and Portugese Jews, who escaped the Inquisition.

He was raised in Harlem and graduated from Morris High School. When he was sixteen, Muller entered Columbia University and received his B.A., in 1910. While at Columbia, he became interested in physiology and biology. In 1909, he founded a biology club.

In 1914, he accepted a position at the recently founded William Marsh Rice Institute, in Texas, where he worked on his Ph.D., issued in 1916. He returned to Columbia University, in 1918 to teach and expand on his experimental program. While at Columbia, he and friend Edgar Altenberg, continued their investigation of lethal mutations.

In 1920, Muller returned to the University of Texas and remained until 1932. In this period, he married Jessie Marie Jacobs, a professor of mathematics. They had one son, David Eugene, and they were divorced in 1935. He married Dorothea Kantorowicz, in 1939. They had a daughter, Helen Juliette.

Muller took a sabbatical and went to Germany to work with Russian geneticist Nikolay Timofeef-Ressovsky . The Nazi movement in Germany became too much for Muller and he went to the Soviet Union to continue his research. Here also, the politics of the Soviet Union were bothering him and he left. He made stops in Madrid and in Paris.

In World War II, he worked as an advisor to the Manhattan Project, as well as a study of mutational effects of radar. In 1945, he took a position as a professor to teach zoology at Indiana University.

• Guggenheim Fellowship, 1932
• Senior Geneticist, at the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences, U.S.S.R., 1934-1937
• Institute of Animal Genetics, University of Edinburgh. 1937-1940
• President of the 8th International Congress of Genetics, 1948
• Doctor of Science Degree, Universities of Edinbourgh, 1940
• Doctor of Science Degree, Columbia University, 1949
• Doctor of Science Degree, University of Chicago, 1959
• Honorary Doctor of Medicine Degree, Jefferson Medical College, 1963
• Kimber Genetics Award, 1955
• Darwin-Wallace Commemoration Award of Science, 1958
• Humanist of the Year, Humanist Association, 1963

Herman Joseph Muller died on April 5, 1967.

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