Adler Celebration Stories

Black-and-white photo of Julius Adler in front of a chalkboard

Julius Adler received his Ph.D. under Henry Lardy and became a faculty member in 1960. In 1996, he became an Emeritus Professor.

Lab group photo
Julius’ first lab group, ca. 1965. From left: Julius Adler, Vera Waska Scott (technician), John Armstrong, Marjorie Dahl (research assistant), Melvin DePamphilis and Sylvia Zottu Schade. Sylvia, John and Melvin were Julius’ first graduate students.

When Julius accepted me as a graduate student, I was an immature boy who had never before lived away from home, who wanted desperately to be a great scientist, but who had little, if any, idea how to go about it. Fortunately for me, Julius had the patience of a saint, the temperament of a rabbi, and the knowledge of a first-class scientist. Oscar Wilde once said, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” When I look back on the past 60 years, I realize that it was Julius who made my career in science possible. Thank you, Julius.

Patience: I loved to work late into the night. Julius tried to explain to me why it was important to be present during the day, as well, but I countered all his arguments, until – out of frustration – he said, “Someday I will have to write a letter of recommendation for you, and . . . “. From then on, I was in the lab bright and early.

Temperament: Late one night I looked into the electron microscope and became the first person ever to see the basal bodies on bacterial flagella. Success! I needed to tell somebody that my experiment actually worked, but I was alone. So, I phoned Julius at his home (~11 PM). He answered the phone with a sleepy voice. “Julius, I cried, it worked! It worked! What worked, he replied? We’ve discovered the basal body on bacterial flagella! That’s nice, you can tell me all about it in the morning.”

Knowledge: Julius and I wrote several manuscripts together. He often asked me questions for which I thought the answers were obvious, but he insisted on solid experimental evidence. “Mel, there are two parts to research. First, you convince yourself of the truth. That’s the easy part. Then you have to convince everyone else. That’s the hard part!”

Melvin L. DePamphilis, Ph.D. 1970, 1996 – present, Lab Head, National Institute of Child Health & Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD

I was a postdoc with Julius from 1986 to 1990. At the time, the lab consisted of several smallish rooms along the hallway in the basement of the Biochemistry Building on Henry Mall. All the doors of these small rooms were always kept open. Julius’s office was nearby, with its door open as well, and one could hear him laugh at times. When you heard his bright and loud laughter, you could not help but smile! Every morning, he would “make his rounds”: he would go in each one of these rooms and say Good Morning to whomever had arrived before him. In the afternoon, we would see him go to McDonalds across the street. He made no qualms about it! In front of his office outside, there was a beautiful large tree. I had heard that he fought for this tree not to be cut down a few years prior, when they were making additions to the building. Julius loves Nature. He loves birds, and flowers and E. coli! We had very lengthy group meetings. He just liked to hear people brainstorm. He wanted to hear your interpretations, your opinions, your plans, in details. He is very thorough and detail-oriented, but at the same time has a wonderful ability to tell a story, as we have all appreciated form his papers, lectures and talks. I always felt valued and welcome any time I interacted with Julius.

Happy Birthday, Julius!!

Anne Delcour, Professor of Biology & Biochemistry and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Houston, Houston, TX

My fondest memories of my time with Julius are his kindness to everyone, his passion for “Elmer” outside his office, and many interesting conversions that we had or in group settings. His yearly “Equinox” parties were fun and was never afraid to have these moments. In my office, I still have a picture of Julius with a kid’s paper crown on head enjoying his 65th birthday party. My best wishes are to him on his 90th birthday.

Louis S. Tisa, 1989-1994 Research Associate, Professor of Microbiology and Genetics; Chair of the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Biomedical Sciences, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH


I have so many great memories of Julius; we hiked and ice skated and went canoeing together. I have kept in touch since I left his lab and my husband and I visit Julius and Hilde every so often. I remember one day, that Julius was telling a bunch of us in the lab, that there were prickly pear cactus in WI. We were filled with disbelief! So we all piled into Julius’ car and he drove all over back roads west of Madison, looking for a certain hill. Those of us stuffed into his car were still doubters. Then he stopped and we started hiking up the sharp hill and suddenly, there were flowering prickly pear cactus all over!! We were all amazed. Julius taught me as much about nature, as he taught me about science!

Mary L Hedblom, Ph.D., Postdoc 1978-1983, Happily retired now; Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Lafayette College for 2 years, then technical manager at Abbott Laboratories for 25 years

The impressive record of Julius in science speaks for itself. Therefore, I will not touch this aspect. Instead, I will mention two of the many things that caused me to be so highly fond of him.
One is the humane side and caring of Julius. I was touched to see how much he and Hilde cared for the wellbeing of me and my family in Madison when I did in his lab my second postdoc. We felt it from the moment of landing in Madison, finding Julius waiting for us at the airport with a named signboard in his hand and warmly welcoming us. Both Julius and Hilde made every effort to make us feel at home and miss nothing throughout our stay in Madison.
The other thing is Julius’ unique, creative way of thinking. Julius and I occasionally used to stroll in the beautiful campus of Madison, discussing a variety of issues, not necessarily science-related. During these strolls, he sometimes surprised me with questions such as “Do you think that plants sense pain?” or “How come that the physical appearance of Jews (for example, the tint of the skin, eyes and hair) is not different from that of non-Jews in a given geographical location, even though Jews have refrained from intermarriages for many generations?”, pointing out that the time elapsed since the beginning of the exile was too short for mutations to occur. We discussed such questions at length, and Julius always had original, interesting ideas about them. I also remember when, in one of our strolls, Julius demonstrated to me taxis other than bacterial chemotaxis. We passed by a Mimosa pudica plant and Julius touched one of its leaves. The leave immediately closed, and Julius explained that this is thigmotaxis, movement in response to touch. As can be imagined, these strolls and discussions were pure delight for me, and I very much cherish them and Julius.

Michael Eisenbach, Postdoc 1978-1980, Professor emeritus, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

Julius met with students at least weekly; we sat on his spartan green couch with bony wooden arms, while he asked questions about our data from the thick wooden swivel chair at his desk. His floor was often completely covered with research papers. The wall of reprints next to his desk was intimidating, but Julius put us at ease with his genuine curiosity and deep, resonating full-bodied laugh. Julius guided gently, but could let you know that you were on the wrong track – after I went off on some wild train of thought with little evidence, Julius simply responded “That’s a very idiosyncratic idea.” When Julius was intrigued, he was eager to discuss possible experiments. Once I brought some fresh result to Julius in the hallway. He said “Let’s talk,” plopped onto the floor with his legs out, and patted the floor to have me do the same. We sat there going over data for over an hour, with undergrads and faculty walking over us between their classes.
Julius introduced me at my dissertation defense with: “He has been in my lab……..forEVER. He is here in a futile attempt to get his degree with a talk on…”. Julius planned on holding a sit-down dinner in his home that evening. Alas, my wife went into labor that afternoon. Hilde took formal photographs of the long table stretching into their living room, all empty, except for Julius and David eating soup as if the room were full.
More than any other scientist I’ve ever met, Julius had boundless curiosity, optimism, and genuine exuberance for students and living creatures. I’ve tried to bring that same exuberance to my own teaching.

Matthew Buechner, Ph. D. 1990, Program Director, National Science Foundation, starting Sept. 2020, Associate Professor, University of Kansas until Dec. 2020

Anyone who’s interacted with Julius Adler knows that he’s a very methodical thinker. This was apparent to me in the small science sessions Julius held in his office when we brainstormed interpretations of perplexing results and what experiments to do next. But Julius’ unique data-processing style really hit home to me one late November day as we walked along the shore of Lake Mendota, watching it freeze, as Julius loved to do. There were three or four of us strolling with Julius and someone asked him a question along the lines of “Do you know anyone who has a cabin in the Baraboo Mountains?” Julius continued walking, and walking, and walking. Five minutes passed and the questioner finally said “Julius, I asked…” and Julius instantly replied, “I’m thinking…” We kept walking, and walking, and walking. Another five minutes passed, then Julius turned to the questioner and said, “No”.

I’ve tried to incorporate Julius’ methodical, linear-logic approach in my own scientific endeavors and in my interactions with students and postdocs in my group. It’s always served me well, as it did Julius.

John S. (Sandy) Parkinson, NSF/NIH Postdoctoral fellow July, 1970-August, 1972, Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT

I first met Julius Adler in November 1967. I was a second-year graduate student at Case Western Reserve University on a visit to UW to find a new Ph.D. advisor. The faculty member whose laboratory I had joined at Case Western had gotten very sick and I was advised that I needed to identify a new thesis lab. There were reasons to look beyond Case Western.
As I entered Julius’ office, he explained that he had no extra funds or space for an additional graduate student, but he was happy to explain his research in what was scheduled to be a 30-minute meeting. Over the next hour and a half, as I listened to the amazing new areas he was investigating, we both got more and more excited. When I finally departed, Julius indicated that, if interested, I could join his research group but I should go back to Cleveland, consider all my options and write him if I were interested in joining his laboratory.
I did just that and received in return a quintessential “Julius letter”. It read more or less as follows:

Dear Jerry,
Best regards,

I have tried to emulate but never achieved that combination of brevity and content.

Gerald L. Hazelbauer, Ph.D. (genetics) 1971, Active researcher, retired faculty member (Curators’ Distinguished Professor and Biochemistry Chair Emeritus, University of Missouri)

In the late 80s and early 90s, I was a graduate student in Julius’ lab studying the behavioral response of E. coli to blue light. Back then there was another student, Congyi Li, who was a very talented artist. He could convert any serious scientific discovery into a funny cartoon. After we discovered a mutant E. coli that had an enhanced tumbling response to blue light, Congyi produced a cartoon version entitled “Phototaxis Mutant”. The character he drew looked like the Chinese mythological god Erlang Shen, a deity with a magical third eye on his forehead. Just like our mutant E. coli , the Phototaxis Mutant had a mutation that enhanced its light perception ability. In Julius’ lab, my desk was the second one from the door, next to Mike’s desk. My desk was always covered with research notebooks, research papers, and other miscellaneous items…. As embarrassing as this is to admit, my desk was probably the messiest in the whole lab. Julius must have noticed this, because one day he handed me a note that said, “Messy desk, clean mind.” While I was thinking back on my time with Julius, this memory stood out to me. Even though it was a small gesture, I remember feeling really encouraged by his message.

Hanjing Yang, Ph. D. 1992, Research associate, Molecular and Computational Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Southern California

The stories shared of Julius are just precious to me.  He was a wonderful advisor. Many refer to his pile of reprints in his office: that is choice to me. I remember one pile that was on the floor and must have stood 3.5 feet tall. He could actually go through it and find papers that he wanted. So I especially enjoyed the “Messy desk, clean mind.” quote.

I wonder, Julius, if you still have the heavy duty wire helices we made to show how tangles work their way off of the flagellar bundle during counter-clockwise rotation but cause tumbling during clockwise rotation?

Also, thanks for the many pieces of pecan pie during problem-solving.

Steve Larsen, Ph.D. 1974, Retired faculty member, Indiana University School of Medicine