Baruch Samuel Blumberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1976

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Baruch Samuel Blumberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1976

Birthplace: New York, Kings County, New York, United States
Death: Died in Mountain View, Santa Clara County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Meyer Blumberg and Ida Blumberg
Husband of <private> Blumberg (Liebesman)
Father of <private> Blumberg; George Blumberg; <private> Thompson (Blumberg) and <private> Blumberg

Occupation: Nobel Prize in Physiology / Medicine 1976
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Immediate Family

About Baruch Samuel Blumberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1976

Baruch Samuel Blumberg (July 28, 1925 – April 5, 2011) was an American doctor and co-recipient of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with Daniel Carleton Gajdusek), and the President of the American Philosophical Society from 2005 until his death.

Blumberg received the Nobel Prize for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases." Blumberg identified the Hepatitis B virus, and later developed its diagnostic test and vaccine.

By the late 1990s Dr. Blumberg was immersed in astrobiology, as NASA called the new science. Appointed by the NASA administrator, Dan Goldin, to lead the Astrobiology Institute, Dr. Blumberg and his team were asked to address three profound questions: How does life begin and evolve? Does life exist elsewhere in the universe? And what is life’s future on Earth and beyond?

As in his disease studies, Dr. Blumberg sought collaborations with specialists in a variety of fields, including physics, chemistry, geology, paleontology and oceanography as well as biology and medicine that would “help us to recognize biospheres that might be different from our own.”

While urging the development of instrumentation for astrobiological space probes, Dr. Blumberg recommended equal efforts in the study of earthly “extremophiles,” the organisms that somehow thrive in extreme temperatures, pressures and chemical conditions.

In fissures in the deep ocean floor, Dr. Blumberg said, are extremophiles that might resemble the earliest life forms on Earth or other planets. He described Earth as “a place of extremes” during the first few hundred million years of its 4.5-billion-year existence, given to radical climate fluctuations, from searing heat to immobilizing cold, amid constant meteorite bombardments and catastrophic volcanic eruptions.

He speculated that life might have started on Earth at geothermal sites, either underground or in the sea. The NASA venture — since diminished by administrative changes and financing cutbacks — was welcomed by those who advocate a search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI, and call the science “exobiology.” Dr. Blumberg joined the board of the SETI Institute in Mountain View, Calif.

But in an interview with The New York Times in 2002, he said he would be “very surprised if we found something in space, that it would look like E.T.”

“If we found something more like a virus or a bacteria,” he said, “that would be astounding enough.”

Baruch Samuel Blumberg (Barry to his friends) was born in New York City on July 28, 1925, the second of three children of Meyer Blumberg, a lawyer, and Ida Blumberg. After attending the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn, he went to Far Rockaway High School in Queens (whose graduates also include the Nobel physicists Richard Feynman and Burton Richter).

His undergraduate studies at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., were interrupted by World War II, when he served as a Navy deck officer on landing ships. Returning to Union College, he completed a bachelor’s degree in physics, enrolled in graduate studies of mathematics at Columbia and transferred to Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, earning his M.D. there in 1951.

Dr. Blumberg served a clinical fellowship at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, went to Oxford University’s Balliol College for a doctorate in biochemistry, and returned to the United States in 1957 to join the National Institutes of Health, where he headed the Geographic Medicine and Genetics Section until 1964.

Most of his research afterward was conducted at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Blumberg was also on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and its School of Medicine as a professor of medicine, medical genetics and medical anthropology.

Dr. Blumberg married Jean Liebesman, an artist, in 1954. She survives him, as do two daughters, Anne Blumberg of Boston and Jane Blumberg of Oxford, England; two sons, George, of Oxford, and Noah, of Chevy Chase, Md.; and nine grandchildren.

Dr. Blumberg saw his Nobel as more than an act of recognition. He said it helped draw renewed attention to his work with enormously beneficial consequences. After receiving the prize, he said, he was invited to China. “I spoke before several thousand people,” he told The Times in 2002. “I provided them with a copy of the patent, and now I’m told that it helped to change the direction of what they were doing and led to the saving of a lot of lives.”

Saving lives, he said, was the whole point of his career. “Well, it is something I always wanted to do,” he said. “This is what drew me to medicine. There is, in Jewish thought, this idea that if you save a single life, you save the whole world, and that affected me.”

Image credit: NASA/Dominic Hart

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Baruch Samuel Blumberg, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1976's Timeline

July 28, 1925
New York, Kings County, New York, United States
April 5, 2011
Age 85
Mountain View, Santa Clara County, California, United States