Baruch Blumberg, who went by the nickname Barry, is best known for winning the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine 1976 for discovering the hepatitis B virus and developing a vaccine against it. But he often lived life far from the lab. So it seems fitting that when he died on Tuesday at age 85, apparently of a heart attack, he was hundreds of miles from his home base in Philadelphia, at a NASA conference in California. Blumberg had spent many years involved in NASA's astrobiology program, including at one time as its leader.
Last summer, Science visited Blumberg at his home in downtown Philadelphia for a story about retiring researchers who have large collections of samples. Blumberg's was among the most massive: when we spoke, he guessed he'd amassed 450,000 blood samples during his career. To acquire them, he ticked off where he'd traveled: West Africa, the Arctic, Romania, Italy, Taiwan, the Pacific Islands, and more. "I carried a lab around the world," he said. His geographic reach was so great that his face appeared on stamps in the Maldives and Angola.
Blumberg spent most of his career at the city's Fox Chase Cancer Center and was eager to talk about hepatitis B and the importance of vaccination. But he was just as happy chatting about his other activities. He was then president of the American Philosophical Society, which was founded by Benjamin Franklin; he was still kayaking and hiking and an active amateur photographer. He was also a member of the Explorers Club of New York—"There's a branch right here in Philly," he said.
This reporter had scribbled "young 85" in her notes when talking with Blumberg. The verve with which he was still living life made that plain.