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Baruch Samuel Blumberg, 1925-2011

by Susan Freudenheim

April 6, 2011 | 2:31 pm

Baruch Samuel Blumberg

It is a huge loss to our world, better luck, we hope should there be another world.

Nobel prize winner Barry Blumberg died suddenly yesterday, while attending a meeting on, appropriately, “how to move humanity off this world onto others,” according to Keith Cowing, writing on the NASA Lunar Science Institute site. Blumberg was a biologist awarded the Nobel prize in 1976 for discovering the Hepatitus B virus and later developing the diagnostic test for it and the vaccine. He saved innumerable lives for this work, but went on to participate in many other areas of science, including the consideration of life in universes beyond our own.

I did not know him well, but I met him a few times a couple of summers ago in a magical part of Maine, where he and his artist wife, Jean, summered every year. Barry was part of a minyan that also includes my sister, Jo Freudenheim, and her husband, Mike Frisch, and a group of friends who enjoy coming together to celebrate Shabbat. Most of the participants are scholars, and the level of intellect is very high among this group, but when Barry would talk about God, the universe, and beyond, attention was paid. He was extremely kind in manner, spoke plainly and with great curiosity about subjects beyond my understanding, instantly making me want to know more. His spirituality was apparent and inspirational. And he spoke of his family with extraordinary pride.

Cowling continues:

Barry was a Nobel Laureate and was the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. NASA has never enticed anyone finer to join its ranks. Barry’s choice for NAI went vastly beyond the norm – and Dan Goldin was the one who made that choice. Goldin entered into another realm of inspiration when he picked Barry to run NAI (Barry had a habit of doing that to people) and that decision will affect the course of Astrobiology for decades to come.

I managed to reach Dan Goldin on Barry’s passing. He told me “The world has lost a great man. Barry saved lives through his research on the Hepatitis B virus. He also inspired a whole generation of people world wide through his work in building the NASA Astrobiology Institute. On a personal level, he improved my life through his friendship. Our planet is an improved place as a result of Barry’s few short days in residence.”

Sean O’Keefe told me this morning that Blumberg “impressed me as a man whose humility was only surpassed by his capacity to inspire a new generation of scientists to pursue the human passion to want to learn from everything around us. He truly was a remarkable man.”

NASA is placing the work of another Nobel Laureate (AMS) on-orbit in a few weeks. Maybe something reminiscent of Barry Blumberg could be placed on it … it would be fitting since Barry truly did know something about everything and yet still sought to learn more up until his last moments on this planet.

May the memory of Baruch Samuel Blumberg be a blessing.

Video courtesy College of Physicians

 

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