Union Notables

Baruch Samuel Blumberg    class of 1946


Baruch Samuel Blumberg, photograph courtesy of Union College Alumni Office

Baruch Samuel Blumberg, M.D., an internationally renowned physician, researcher, and scholar, is best known for his discovery of the “Australian antigen,” a human antigen that provokes antibody response against hepatitis B. His discovery led to the development of a successful vaccine against hepatitis B, a disease associated with liver cancer. This vaccine was the first developed against a major form of cancer and has been administered to millions of people worldwide. Blumberg was the co-recipient with D. Carlton Gajdusek, M.D. of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1976 for "discoveries concerning new mechanisms for the origin and dissemination of infectious diseases" and specifically, for the discovery of the hepatitis B virus. The discovery of the hepatitis B virus is considered one of the greatest medical achievements of the 20th century. Blumberg and his colleagues discovered the virus in 1967, developed the blood test that is used to detect the virus, and invented the first hepatitis B vaccine in 1969. These outstanding accomplishments have contributed significantly towards making the world a much healthier place to live.

Blumberg was born in New York in 1925, earned his bachelor’s degree with honors in physics at Union College in 1946, and received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from Union in 1977. He had joined the U.S. Navy in 1943 and was a landing ship commanding officer when he finished college in 1946. In 1951 Blumberg received his M.D. from Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry at Balliol College, Oxford in 1957. In 1960, he was appointed chief of the Geographic Medicine and Genetics Section of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. He is a Distinguished Scientist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where he has worked since 1964. In 1977 he was appointed Professor of Medicine, Human Genetics, and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. From 1989–1994, Blumberg was Master of Balliol, Oxford University. From 1999–2002 he was Director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Astrobiology Institute. The American Philosophical Society elected him President in 2005. In 2002, Blumberg published the scientific memoir Hepatitis B: The Hunt for a Killer Virus, describing his work to discover the hepatitis B antigen. He has taught medical anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and elsewhere, and has been a visiting professor in India (Bangalore); Singapore; University of Kentucky (Lexington); Indiana University (Bloomington); the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand; and Stanford University.

Hepatitis B Virus
Hepatitis B Virus photograph by Oliver Meckes and Ottawa/Photo Researchers, Inc.; "hepatitis: hepatitis B virus." Online Photograph. Encyclopediaædia Britannica Online. 10 Aug. 2007

In 2004 Blumberg helped to establish the Lewis and Clark Fund for Exploration and Field Research. The Lewis and Clark provides funding for field studies by young scientists in disciplines ranging from geology to anthropology to epidemiology.

Blumberg balances his intense professional life with a love of nature, taking time to run, hike, canoe, and work on his farm. He says, “shoveling manure for a day on my farm is an excellent counterbalance to intellectual work.”