The Russells, husband and wife, were leaders of mammalian genetics studies at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Liane Brauch was born in Austria in 1923. She immigrated to the United States, enrolled in Hunter College, and earned her Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Chicago. William Lawson Russell was born in England in 1910, graduated from Oxford University in 1932, and immigrated to the United States, earning his Ph.D. in zoology at the University of Chicago in 1937. The Russells married, and both worked at Jackson Memorial Laboratory in Maine before transferring to Oak Ridge in 1947 to conduct genetics research focusing on radiation-induced mutations.
The Russells developed efficient methods to determine the rates at which mouse genes were mutated by different radiation types and levels. They set up a laboratory, called the “Mouse House,” to study mutations through generations. Their discovery that the mouse mutation rate was several times higher than the rate for fruit flies resulted in reductions in the permissible levels for occupational radiation exposure. Liane Russell’s discovery of the vulnerability of mice embryos to radiation led nationally to ending diagnostic pelvic X-rays for childbearing women, except during part of the menstrual cycle.
The Russells expanded their research to include the genetic effects on mice of chemicals from drugs, fuels, and wastes. In 1975 Liane Russell developed a fur-spot test for identifying chemicals likely to be mutagenic in reproductive cells. She subsequently expanded her research into modern molecular genetics, seeking human genes that might be responsible for malfunctions such as diseased kidneys. The Russells also formed the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning, seeking stringent control of strip-mining and preservation of wilderness areas. Their efforts fostered creation of the Big South Fork National Recreation Area in northern Tennessee and southern Kentucky. The Russells received many awards for their achievements and were recognized as one of the most fruitful scientific collaborations in American history. In January 1995 Liane Russell received the prestigious Enrico Fermi Award from President Bill Clinton.
Leland Johnson and Daniel Schaffer, Oak Ridge National Laboratory: The First Fifty Years (1994); W. L. Russell and Liane Brauch Russell, “Radiation-Induced Genetic Damage in Mice,” in Progress in Nuclear Energy: Biological Sciences (1959)