Saturday, July 27, 2013

Baruch S. Blumberg

Baruch Samuel Blumberg was born on July 28, 1925 in Brooklyn, New York. His father, Meyer Blumberg, was a lawyer. Blumberg attended Yeshivah of Flatbush a parochial elementary school where he learned to read and write Hebrew. He attended Far Rockaway High School. In 1943 he joined the U.S. Navy where he served as a deck officer on landing ships, completing a undergraduate physics degree while he was in the Navy. He retired from the Navy in 1946. After leaving the Navy he began graduate work in mathematics at Columbia University. After a year studying math, he switched to medicine, at the urging of his father. he earned his MD in 1953 and remained at Columbia for his internship and residency working at Bellevue Hospital . He then went to Balliol College, Cambridge where he studied biochemistry, earning a PhD in 1957.  He was the first American to become a master of Balliol College. From 1957 to 1964 he worked for the National Institutes of Health.

Blumberg's research dealt with polymorphisms in serum proteins of human blood. Polymorphisms are differences in proteins caused by different gene alleles. Alleles are different forms of the same gene. He took many trips to tropical countries to collect and study the blood proteins of people living there and studied how these differences affected the health of the their carriers. During his trips to Australia he found a unique protein in the blood of Australian aboriginal people, which he called Au. In 1966 he found a patient who had the Au protein spontaneously appear in their blood. The same patient developed hepatitis. From this result Blumberg determined that the Au protein was a surface protein for the hepatitis B virus. Using this result Blumberg and his team were able to develop a screening test and a vaccine for the Hepatitis B virus. For his discovery of the hepatitis B virus Blumberg shared the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine with D. Carleton Gajdusek.

After winning the Nobel Prize Blumberg continued working to better understand the hepatitis B virus, including its affects on individuals carrying the virus. In 1994 Blumberg was elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and he served from 1999 to 2002 as the first director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute.

Blumberg died of an apparent heart attack on April 5, 2011, while he was attending a conference at NASA's Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.


Blumberg, Baruch, Nobel Autobiography, at

Rall, Glenn; Baruch S.Blumberg MD,1925-2011; Virology Blog at

Baruch S. Blumberg Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Georg Brandt

Georg Brandt was born on July 21, 1694 in Riddarhyttan, Sweden. His father, Jurgen Brandt, was a metalworker and an apothecary. Growing up he assisted his father with his metalwork projects and he became interested in it. Brandt attended Uppsala University and worked for the council of mines. In 1721 he traveled to Leiden where he worked in the laboratory of Herman Boerhaave for three years. There he studied chemistry and medicine. He earned a medical doctorate from the University of Rheims in 1726. When he returned home to Sweden he was made the director of laboratory of the Council of Mines. Brandt was named warden of the Royal Mint in 1730. He became an associate member of the council of mines in 1747 and a full member in 1750.

Brandt's research involved investigating metals. He coined the term semi-metals to describe elements that have both metal and non-metal characteristics. These elements are now called metalloids. Metaloids are the elements in the region between metal and non-metal elements on the periodic table (see here) In 1733 he investigated arsenic and its compounds. In 1735 he postulated that the blue color in an ore known as smalt was due to an unknown metal or semi-metal. In 1742 he was able to isolate this unknown blue metal which he named cobalt, taking the name from the old Teutonic word kobold meaning demon. Cobalt is atomic number 27 and is represented by the chemical symbol Co.

Brandt's later research involved using hot acid solutions to dissolve gold. Brandt's later publications dealt with criticism of the alchemical belief that other "base" metals could be transformed into gold. It has been said that he did more than any other chemist to clarify that transmutation of other metals into gold was impossible and that claims of alchemists that they could create gold from other metals were false.

Brandt died on April 29, 1768 in Stockholm, Sweden of prostate cancer.


Morris, Richard; The Last Sorcerers; Joseph Henry Press; 2003

"Brandt, Georg" in Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography; Charles Scribner's Sons; 2008

Georg Brandt Wikipedia Entry

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Jean-Baptiste Dumas

Jean-Baptiste-Andre Dumas was born on July 14 (Bastille Day), 1800 in Ales, France. His father worked as a clerk in the municipality of Ales. Initially his family prepared him for a naval career, but with the bloodshed that followed the downfall of the Napoleonic empire he was apprenticed to an apothecary. Wishing to leave his home in 1816 he traveled to Geneva on foot, where he attended lectures on science. The apothecary where he worked provided a laboratory where he could perform experiments. In 1821 Dumas went to Paris where he completed his studies in chemistry. Two years later Dumas was appointed lecture assistant to Louis Jacques Thenard, a professor at the Ecole Polytechnique.  Dumas succeeded him two years later.

During the 1820s Dumas developed a method of measuring the vapor densities of volatile liquids which he used to measure the atomic weights of 30 of the 59 the elements known at the time. Starting with the hypothesis of William Prout, that the atomic mass of hydrogen was 1 and all the other elements were multiples of hydrogen's mass, Dumas determined the masses of the other elements. Later Dumas began work on organic chemistry (chemistry involving compounds of carbon) going on to become one of the most advanced organic chemists of his time. In 1833 Dumas developed a method for determining the amount of nitrogen in an organic compound, founding modern analytical chemistry.

Dumas also studied physiological questions. In one of his first researches he determined that iodine was what was necessary factor to treat goiter. He also determined that kidneys removed urea, a form of nitrogen waste, from the blood.

When he reached middle age Dumas devoted more of his time to public service and less time to scientific research. He served as the minister of agriculture and commerce and as director of the mint. He was also served as a senator.

Dumas died on April 10, 1884 in Cannes. He was buried in Paris and his is one of the 72 names memorialized on the Eiffel Tower.


Anon; Obituary; Proceedings of the Royal Society; (1884) 37:X

Cooke, Josiah Parsons; "Jean-Baptiste-Andre Dumas"

Newbold, Brian; "Jean-Baptiste-Andre Dumas: A Dominating Influence in Nineteenth Century French Chemistry";

Jean-Baptiste Dumas Wikipedia Entry

Monday, July 8, 2013

Nettie Stevens

Nettie Maria Stevens was born on July 7, 1861 in Cavendish, Vermont. Her family settled in Westford, Vermont, where her father was a carpenter and handyman. He did well enough that he was able to invest in real estate and he was able to send his children away to school. Stevens attended Westfield Academy and Westfield Normal School where she completed a four year program in two years. After working as a teacher for a while, in 1896 Stevens began attending Stanford University, in Palo Alto, California, where she earned a BA in 1899 and a MA in 1900 completing her thesis using a microscope to describe new species of marine life. Stevens next went to Bryn Mawr College where she studied cytology. While at Bryn Mawr Stevens won a fellowship that allowed her to travel to Warzburg, where she studied in the laboratory of Theodore Boveri. Boveri was studying the role that chromosomes have on heredity. Stevens returned to Bryn Mawr finishing her PhD in 1903. After finishing her doctorate she remained at Bryn Mawr as an assistant.

Stevens research while at Bryn Mawr was studying the chromosomes of sex cells of meal worms. Sex cells are the cells produced by males and females that give rise to progeny. These cells have half the number of chromosomes that normal cells do. When male and female sex cells combine, a process called fertilization, it gives rise to a single cell with half of its chromosomes from the father and half from the mother that will eventually develop into progeny. Stevens noted in her research that some male sex cells have a chromosome not found in female sex cells. She proposed that this extra chromosome was responsible for determining the sex of the offspring. Today we call this extra chromosome the Y-chromosome and when a male sex cell, with a Y-chromosome, fertilizes an egg the offspring will be male. Half of male sex cells have an X-chromosome and when it fertilizes a female sex cell the offspring will be female. At the time it was believed that the gender of offspring was determined by the mother and environmental factors and Stevens' research was not widely accepted. Today we know that the sex cells of the father, with either Y or X chromosomes, determine the gender of the offspring through the mechanism discovered by Stevens.

Stevens died of breast cancer on May 4, 1912 at the early age of 39.


DNA Learning Center; "Nettie Maria Stevens (1861-1912)"; Retrieved from:

Scitable; "Nettie Stevens: A Discoverer of Sex Chromosomes"; Retrieved from:

Nettie Stevens Wikipedia Entry

Monday, July 1, 2013

Lawrence J. Henderson

Lawrence Joseph Henderson was born on June 3, 1878 in Lynn, Massechusets. His father Joseph was a businessman. Henderson went from being an undersized infant to an athlete who was known for his running speed. Henderson attended school in Salem, Massachusetts and entered Harvard College at the age of 16. He was fond of mathematics and physics and did well in those subjects. He earned his A.B. degree in 1898 and entered Harvard Medical School later that year. He earned his MD in 1902 and afterwards spent two years working in Franz Hofmeister's laboratory at the University of Strasbourg. When he returned to the United States he took a lecturer position at Harvard Medical School. He would remain at Harvard for the rest of his career, as an instructor from 1905-1910, as an assistant professor of biological chemistry from 1910-1919, as a professor from 1919-1934 and as the Abbot and James Lawrence professor of biological chemistry from 1934 until his death.

Henderson's initial research interest upon returning to America was in understanding buffer systems and how the human body maintains its pH balance. In the blood carbon dioxide from cellular respiration combines with water to form carbonic acid. Carbonic acid (H2CO3) exists in the blood primarily in the form of bicarbonate (HCO3-). Bicarbonate and the proteins of the blood act as buffers that maintain the body's pH. When excess acid or base is produced bicarbonate acts to maintain the body's pH at a slightly basic pH (about 7.35). From his research on buffers Henderson developed an equation that can be used to calculate the pH of a buffer system. The Henderson/Hasselbalch equation equates the pH to the pKa of the acid in the buffer plus the log of the concentration of the acid's anion divided by the concentration of the associated acid (pH = pKa + log([A-]/[HA]).

Henderson's later research career dealt with more philosophical issues in science. He published two books, The Fitness of the Environment and The Order of Nature, devoted to the discussion of global problems of the fitness of organisms in their environments. In The Order of Nature he concluded that "the whole evolutionary process, both cosmic and organic, is one, and the biologist may rightly regard the universe, in its essence as biocentric."

Henderson died on February 10, 1942 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Cannon, Walter M.; "Biographical Memoir of Lawerence Joseph Henderson 1878-1943"; National Academy Press; 1943

Mayer, Jean; "Lawrence J. Henderson - A Biographical Sketch"; The Journal of Nutrition (1968)94:3-5

Smith, Charles H.; "Henderson, Lawrence Joseph (United States 1878-1942)"; retrieved from: http: wku/

Lawerence Joseph Henderson Wikipedia Entry