In Memoriam: Dr. Baruch S. ‘Barry’ Blumberg 1925 – 2011

From Simon P. “Pete” Worden, Center Director, NASA Ames Research Center

Baruch Blumberg was the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. His term of office lasted from 1999 to 2002. Photo Credit: NASA

It is with great sadness that I inform you of the tragic passing of Dr. Baruch “Barry” Blumberg yesterday afternoon, April 5, 2011. Barry was visiting Ames as a featured speaker at the International Lunar Research Park Exploratory Workshop at our conference center at the time of his death of an apparent heart attack. He was 85.

Blumberg, who served as the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute from 1999 to 2002, is best known as the winner of the 1976 Nobel Prize in Medicine for identifying the Hepatitis B virus and making “discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases.”

He was a member of the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia since 1964 and held the rank of University Professor of Medicine and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania since 1977. Concurrently, he was Master of Balliol College, Oxford, from 1989 to 1994.

Since 2005, Barry Blumberg served as President of the American Philosophical Society, the oldest learning society in the United States dating to 1743. He was elected to membership in the society in 1986.

Barry Blumberg originally entered the graduate program in mathematics at Columbia University, but switched to medicine in that school’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, graduating with his M.D. in 1951. He remained at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for the next four years, first as an intern and then as a resident. He began graduate work in biochemistry at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he earned his D. Phil in 1957.

Barry Blumberg was a great biochemist, researcher and a true renaissance man. He was a leading light in the scientific community. He was also a great humanitarian. And he was a loyal and supportive friend – to NASA, Ames Research Center and the nation’s space program. He leaves behind many family members, friends and colleagues who will miss him terribly, but never forget his great accomplishments, compassion, and love for life.

Ames’ flags will be flown at half-staff Thursday, April 7, 2011 in honor of our friend Dr. Barry Blumberg.

Astrobiology Magazine Features with Barry Blumberg:

NASA’s Astrobiology Origins (11/24/2008). Barry Blumberg and Dan Goldin, NASA’s Administrator from April 1992 to November 2001, discuss the origins of NASA’s Astrobiology Program.

Does Hepatitis B Affect Human Gender Ratios? (06/01/2006). In this first part of a two-part interview, Dr. Blumberg discusses the possible role of the hepatitis B virus in controlling the ratio between men and women in the human population.

Viruses and Astrobiology (06/05/06). In this second and final part of the interview, Dr. Blumberg discusses the worldwide effort to vaccinate children against hepatitis B.