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Karl Hufbauer (1937–2020)

Karl served as a faculty member at the University of California, Irvine from almost its very beginning, and was interested in the conditions and considerations that inspire some scientists to venture outside the familiar ground of their own disciplines.

Published onMay 19, 2020
Karl Hufbauer (1937–2020)

Courtesy Sally Hufbauer.

Karl Hufbauer died on Tuesday the 28th of January, 2020.

Karl Hufbauer died peacefully at his home in Seattle on January 28, 2020, in the presence of his family, after a long struggle with diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.

Karl was born in San Diego, California on July 7, 1937. He received his B.S. in Engineering at Stanford University in 1959; a diploma in history and philosophical science from St. Anthony College, Oxford University in 1961; and his Ph.D. in the History of Science from the University of California, Berkeley in 1970. He served as a faculty member in the Department of History at the University of California, Irvine from almost its very beginning, from 1966 through 1999. During this period he sat on countless Departmental, School, and Academic Senate committees (including the important Committee on Academic Personnel). From 1997 to 1998 he was director of the Education Abroad Program in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Lund, Sweden. He also served as Chair of the History Department from 1992 to 1996. We remember Karl as a truly outstanding Chair — a person of undisputed integrity, always well-informed, always fairly but insistently pursuing the interests of his academic unit and of his colleagues, always firm in his commitments and convictions, and always fair-minded.

In his scholarship Karl sought to understand and describe the history of science as a social product. “I believe that the central problem of the history of science,” he once wrote, “is to understand how scientific knowledge has been generated and certified in different social contexts…” To exemplify his conceptualization of science, Karl focused on two extended case studies: (1) The Formation of the German Chemical Community, 1720–1795 (University of California Press, 1982), an expanded version of his Ph.D. dissertation, in which he examined how increasing social support for chemistry in Enlightenment Germany enabled chemists there to form one of the first national discipline-oriented communities; and (2) Exploring the Sun: Solar Science since Galileo (commissioned by NASA and published by Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), in which he studied the history of stellar-energy, when physicists and astronomers began speculating about possible subatomic sources. These projects embodied Karl’s interest in what conditions and considerations inspire some scientists to venture outside the familiar ground of their own disciplines in pursuit of interdisciplinary connections and conclusions. He also published over the years a large array of reviews and articles. One notable talk given by him occurred in June, 2007, at the University of California, Berkeley. He was the introductory speaker at a conference on the direct detection of extrasolar planets. His talk was entitled, “The legacy of Bernard Lyot.”

Beyond his academic interests, Karl was a rock climber, a hiker, a high school and university wrestler, a scuba diver, a hunter of fish and mollusks, and a passionate rock hound. Many friends and colleagues remember the frequent invitations for dinner at the Hufbauer home not far from the campus, for which he made quite wonderful salads and barbecued fish speared that very day in the Pacific Ocean. (He had been an avid diver since he was a boy in La Jolla.) We also remember arriving at his house with the porch piled high and spilling down the stairs with rocks he had collected over the years in his many rock-hunting expeditions in the American West. But despite his obvious passion for stones, we were surprised when, after his retirement to Seattle in 1999 — to be closer to his and Sally’s daughter, Sarah Beth, and their grandchildren — he took up sculpture. He purchased a set of electric sculpting equipment and worked for several years in his basement or in a studio he rented for the purpose. And he took regular trips to look for promising material on which to work. (Tim Tackett went with him on two such forays, one in the Washington Cascades, another in the Panamint Valley of California, and watched as he identified and lugged back choice boulders from creeks and hillsides to be hauled away in his Volvo.) Several of his creations were purchased locally and nationally and a number found a place in public locations: in one of Seattle’s leading hospitals, in a sculpture garden on one of the San Juan Islands, and in the Huntington Library Gardens of San Marino, California. Many have seen his work “Forest Guardian” now in the Tackett/Chenut dining room in Irvine. See his website

While in Seattle, Karl also continued his interest in the history of science and participated regularly in meetings of colleagues interested in the subject at the University of Washington.

In his final years disease greatly limited Karl’s mobility. But during this period his mind long remained sharp and well-informed and he still enjoyed discussing all manner of subjects with those around him.

Karl is survived by his wife of over 59 years, Sally; by three children (Sarah Beth, Benjamin, and Ruth); and by six grandchildren.

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