Remembering Julius Adler, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Genetics

Photo of Julius Adler
Julius Adler

Julius Adler, professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry, died on April 2, 2024, just shy of his 94th birthday.

Adler was born in Edelfingen, Germany. When he was 8 years old, he and his family left their home for North Dakota, where they had family, to escape the Nazis. Adler went on to undergraduate studies at Harvard University before earning his Ph.D. in the UW–Madison Department of Biochemistry in 1957 under the mentorship of Professor Henry Lardy. After completing postdoctoral work at Washington University and Stanford University, Adler returned to Madison in 1960 as a professor in the Departments of Biochemistry and Genetics. He remained an inquisitive and engaged member of the campus community for the duration of his career, retiring in 1996 and closing his lab in 2020.

Adler was best known professionally for his groundbreaking research on chemotaxis — the relationship between chemical stimuli and organism behavior — first in bacteria and later in fruit flies. His studies and mentorship paved the way for new paths of exploration among scientists worldwide. Among his many accolades and awards, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1978.

For Adler, conversation around scientific discovery was not relegated to his campus life. He and his wife, Hilde, opened their home to colleagues who would join them for evening discussions and presentations about their research. And, driven by a lifelong curiosity about the natural world, his inquisitiveness would follow him on outdoor adventures with family, friends, colleagues, and students. He was known as a keen observer of the world around him who found intrigue and wonder in birds, insects, and plants during his travels abroad and his walks across campus alike.

Adler’s collaborators recall his aptitude for stripping away extraneous information to identify simple yet fundamental questions for which he sought logically and elegantly designed approaches, regardless of convention. Logically, his colleagues remember, is also how he approached his own needs: his solution to daytime fatigue, for example, was to simply take a nap.

In celebration of Adler’s 90th birthday in 2020, former members of the Adler Lab shared their experiences and memories of working with him. As a mentor and a colleague, Adler will be remembered as a rigorous scientist who approached both research and mentorship with patience, respect, good humor, and enthusiasm.

Written by Renata Solan.