So long…and thank you, Dr. Blumberg

Some of you may recall this fun video we did with school kids, Science Cheerleaders, bar patrons, Chemical Heritage Foundation President Tom Tritton and Nobel Laureate Dr. Baruch Blumberg.

Well, as reported, “Dr. Blumberg, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist and medical anthropologist who discovered the hepatitis B virus, showed that it could cause liver cancer and then helped develop a powerful vaccine to fight it, saving millions of lives, died Tuesday. He was 85 and lived in Philadelphia.”

I has the very good fortune of occasionally meeting up with Dr. Blumberg at our local coffee shop where this highly unlikely duo would shoot the breeze about citizen science, science policy, outreach methods (boy was he amused by the science cheerleaders!), and lots of things that almost always circled back to various iterations of “public engagement in science” or…kids. He and his wife, Jean, have four kids and nine grandkids.

THIS was a man who believed in the power of people. Not just formally trained scientists, but citizen scientists as well. He was very involved with SETI and Galaxy Zoo, to name but two citizen science projects. Read more about his work at NASA’s astrobiology lab here.

Dr. Blumberg was such a devotee that he decided to use his social capital, in part, to reach out to the heads of the major science institutions in Philly to put together a team to launch Philadelphia’s first, large-scale citizen science effort. Pictured here is the team his assembled: (left to right: Babak Ashrafi (PACHS), Andrew Baker (Sr. VP, Phila Zoo), Dr. George Wohlreich (President, College of Physicians/Phila); Dr. Ted Daeschler (Fmr Pres, Acad of Natural Science/Phila); Dr. Mary Patterson McPherson (President, American Philosophical Society); Dr. Baruch Blumberg, (Nobel Laureate); Tom Tritton (President, Chemical Heritage Foundation); me; and hiding behind me is Allison McCook (former executive editor, The Scientist). I’ll keep you posted on this activity.

At one of his last public appearances, he spoke at a local (Philly) public school. So glad Larry Bock of the USA Science and Engineering Festival invited Dr. Blumberg (and dozens of other Nobel Laureates across the nation) to go into local schools to meet the kids. In this case, when I asked Dr. Blumberg where he’d like to speak, he said, “where my kids went to school, McCall.”

He recited many fond memories his family had at the neighborhood school. He also provided one of the most authentic talks I’ve seen. He told kids that science isn’t always fun; it’s hard work and “you need to know that or you’ll be disappointed sooner or later and you might quit.” He also told the kids that while it wouldn’t be likely one of them would win a Nobel Prize, “it’s not impossible….why not?” He explained how he and his team knew they were onto something (discovering Hep B) and felt an obligation to do something about it (the vaccine).
After all, as this NYTimes obituary reports:

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.”