Bob Hamburger is a man of science, art and music, too

A graduate of the University of North Carolina, Bob Hamburger was a P-38 pilot in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. After his military service, with his wife, Sonia, and a little one in tow, he attended medical school at Yale University, then worked at a hospital and served as a Yale faculty member before being recruited to join the biology department at the newly established University of California campus in La Jolla.

In 1964, he was appointed assistant dean at the School of Medicine.

In 1996, Sonia and Bob created an endowment to support the ArtPower! Chamber Music Series, which is now performed in UCSD’s new Conrad Prebys Concert Hall.

After retiring from UCSD in 1990, Bob was an attending professor at Rady Children’s Hospital, the UCSD Student-Run Free Clinic Project and the St. Vincent de Paul Clinic. Bob is currently professor emeritus and active in the UCSD Emeriti Association.

What brought you to La Jolla?

The first chairman of the UCSD Biology Department, David Bonner, invited me to come to UCSD. That was the most fortunate thing that ever happened. I was working with David at Yale as a post-doctoral fellow conducting research in biology, but I was trained as a pediatrician, so it was very unusual for a pediatrician to be in a molecular biology department.

What makes this town special to you?

It is the best place to work. I say that having lived and worked in a dozen cities in the USA and numerous countries around the world, including Britain, Spain, Cairo, Syria and Kenya, to name a few. It’s so wonderful to work here because you don’t have to worry about snow, sleet or fog to get to work. You can work 16 hours a day instead of eight — and I still work.

If you could snap your fingers and have it done, what might you add,

subtract or improve in La Jolla?

I would stop all the traffic coming into the city, and provide free transportation to destinations all over town.

What inspires you?

The brilliant faculty and scientists at UCSD and all types of music, from classical to jazz.

If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?

Sonia and I would love to host a dinner party that included Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Grover Powers. Powers was my first professor of pediatrics, chairman of my department at Yale and one of my early inspirations.

Tell us about what you are currently reading.

The first is a journal, Immunology. I read it every month. And every week, I read The New Yorker. Beside my bed are two books of poetry — one is light poetry by Billy Collins; the other is by Wislawa Szymborska — a Polish poet, essayist and translator who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1996. I used to write poetry when I was young and romantic!

What is your most-prized possession?

My wife, daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughter. I specialize in females! Also our museum-quality pottery collection by Mata Ortiz.

What do you do for fun?

I like flying my Cessna Centurion 210, but I don’t go out of town unless I have a co-pilot. And I ride an electric motor scooter to work, but for those who fear for my safety, I wear a helmet and only drive to campus (two blocks away) — my scooter isn’t legal on the freeway.

Please describe your greatest accomplishment.

First — science, specifically defining the biologic basis of allergic disease. My research group did that in 1970s and ‘80s; before that, allergies were considered the “magic” disease because no one understood it. We conducted studies of mothers and babies, genetics and more — allergy science, instead of quackery.

Second — inventing patented devices to improve the life of allergic asthmatics. Now I have 18 patents. One of my original devices went into a HEPA filter, and whenever it detected allergens in air, it automatically turned on the filter. It was never commercially successful because the product was too expensive, but now we have a new company that is developing a much more sophisticated device that will detect dangerous bacteria in air. We are marketing it to the pharmaceutical industry and to the federal government.

What is your motto or philosophy of life?

Live well caring for others.