The Life and Career of Miklós Müller--June 3, 2014

These interviews are the fifth in a series of profiles on the lives and work of participants in the New York Hungarian Table, which meets for lunch once a month in Morningside in New York City. This installment features two interviews with Miklós Müller.

Müller is Professor Emeritus of Biology at The Rockefeller University where he has specialized in the field of human parasites. In addition to his scientific work, Müller has also written on the Soviet biologists Trofim Lysenko and Olga Lepeshinskaya, and on the history of biology in East-Central Europe during the postwar period. 

The interview was conduced on June 3, 2014 in New York. Special thanks go to Ph.D. candidate in History at Cornell University, Máté Rigó, for his assistance in cataloging the interview. To download an audio file of the complete interview, click here.

Interview Themes

00:00 Introduction, academic career
01:00 Family background; father was an architect
02:00 Family life in Buda
03:00 Ancestors came from Saxony to Hungary in 1870s
04:00 Hungarian spoken at home
06:00 Father worked for ministry in the 1940s
06:30 Káplár utca, Budapest family home occupied by Russian troops
08:00 Siege of Budapest
09:00 Loss of father as a generational experiment; Müller’s father dies in February 1945
10:20 Interest in microscopes, chemistry, astronomy during his teenage years
11:00 Science education in the 1940s
13:00 Came to USA in 1964
15:40 Father tells him on his death bed to start learning Russian
16:50 No discussion of politics at home
18:40 Teaching assistant at the university in Budapest
19:00 Interpreter for Soviet visitors at 23; Digestion inside unicellular organisms as research topic; Many Western publications by early 1960s
22:00 1963 - Receives invitation to a conference in London, which garners invitations for research visits to the West
23:00 Left Hungary for professional reasons
24:10 Participation in the 1956 revolution
24:30 Hospital in 1956, Polish blood shipment
26:00 Operations during the revolution
29:00 Soviet science and pseudo science
30:00 Visit to Soviet scientific institutes in the early 1960s, secrecy, crowded living conditions
34:00 Socialization at the Soviet academy
37:00 Changes in Russian science research; reduced funding
40:00 The moving of the Hungarian academy from the prestigious castle hill to the outskirts
42:00 Hungarian academic research
46:00 Interest in art, European School, Árpád Mezei, Hungarian abstract painting
48:00 Aesthetic experiences, the importance of patterns, symbiosis between artistic and scientific interests
54:00 Novelty of scientific and artistic production; his scientific research and innovation
56:00 Lysenko and Soviet, “absurd” biology
59:00 Ideology and science, creationism
1:01:00 Structural shifts in scientific research from a cottage industry to billion-dollar projects
1:04:00 Scientists and a lack of interest in big questions; technocratic approach to science 
1:09:00 Scientific community in America; Nobel prize recipients
1:14:00 Paul Nurse; contemporary politics in Hungary
To access the interview, click here