Winter 2010

Professor Saltman Lives on in our Hearts and Minds

Paul Saltman sitting down and holding his hands on top of his desk. Sitting in front of him are assorted candies.

Eat Twinkies® and live well. That was Paul Saltman’s motto. Well, not exactly, but the late, great Biology professor, nutrition expert and university leader did believe that eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures and that we can eat it all - sweets and snacks included – and live well.

Paul D. Saltman was a distinguished professor of biology at UC San Diego for more than three decades, an internationally renowned nutrition expert and an educator who reveled in the disciplines of academic scholarship. He was highly charismatic and emotionally intelligent – a natural born leader who cared passionately about science education.

Early education

Paul Saltman was born two years before the Great Depression in Los Angeles to immigrant parents. His mother, Sadye Solotoy, a native of Canada passed away when Paul was only a toddler. His father, David, was a furniture craftsman from Russia. Paul described his father as “one of the preeminent furniture makers in America.” As a boy, he helped out in his father’s business by doing odd jobs - sweeping floors and sanding furniture – and he began to learn the trade. Unexpectedly and tragically, Paul’s father was killed in a fatal automobile accident when Paul was 14. “I thought my destiny then was to become a furniture maker like my father,” he said.

Paul Saltman wearing basketball clothes and holding a basketball

Fortunately, Paul’s loving Aunt Sonia and Uncle Percy became his surrogate parents. He went to live with them in their Silverlake home and attended John Marshall High School. In high school, he made many close friends, was elected student body president, took up boxing and became a fine basketball player. Thanks to some inspiring teachers, especially his high school chemistry teacher, Bessie Butcher, Paul became enthused about science. Fast forward a few years and Paul earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology but left the university feeling alienated from science. He planned to attend business school and thought he would become a millionaire businessman in the furniture industry.

Fate intervened, however, in the name of Irene Joliot-Curie, Nobel Laureate and daughter of the famous Pierre and Marie Curie. Saltman met her at a fundraising event for veterans in 1949 and she persuaded him to continue to study science with a generous one-year scholarship at the prestigious College de France in Paris. Saltman married Barbara, his girlfriend of 4 years and the couple took off on a “one-year honeymoon” to Paris where Paul fell in love with science again. When the couple returned to L.A. the next year, Saltman went back to Cal Tech and earned his doctorate in biochemistry in 1953. That same year, he met Walter Max, a USC professor who convinced him to sign on as a temporary teaching fellow in the university’s medical school. What started as a one-year temp contract turned into a full professorship in the department of biochemistry and ultimately 14 years at USC.

UCSD and the forefront of nutrition research

Professor Saltman came to UCSD in 1967 and joined the fledging Department of Biology and soon thereafter, was appointed provost of Revelle College.

Paul Saltman teaching in a lecture hall full of students

Over the years, Professor Saltman became a legend across the young UCSD campus. He developed groundbreaking interdisciplinary courses under the umbrella, Frontiers of Science, for non-science majors, established and taught numerous summer courses and special educational programs to enrich the scientific knowledge and skills of high school teachers, served on the National Science Foundation Committee on Science Education, and published countless articles on nutrition science in leading academic journals.

As a leading nutrition researcher, Saltman directed his efforts toward understanding the chemistry, biochemistry, and nutritional role of trace metals such as iron, copper, zinc, manganese and others. This resulted in improved dietary and supplemental strategies by which we can obtain sufficient iron and other nutrients for proper growth and development. Clinical applications of his research included reduction of free radical damage to hearts, prevention of anemia, enhanced physical performance, and better bone and skeletal metabolism. Paul took great pleasure in debunking the conventional wisdom and myths about what many people consider good dietary habits and pointed out those fatty foods such as hamburgers can be good for you – as long as you achieve an overall healthy balance in your diet.

Paul Saltman wearing a lab coat and glasses while examining a liquid

Saltman became renowned for his common sense approach to nutrition guided by scientific knowledge. He wrote The California Nutrition Book, widely acclaimed as one the most definitive guides to understanding and applying the science of nutrition to everyday life. In it, he exclaimed, “There is no junk food, there is no health food, there is no magic diet. We all need to avoid excess fats, balance our caloric intake, take vitamin and mineral supplements if we are not getting them from our foods and lead a balanced lifestyle, with plenty of rest and exercise” And Paul Saltman walked the talk. He surfed, played basketball and tennis and ate pizza, bacon, and yes, Twinkies on occasion. “Nutrition is an exact science, he declared, “There’s nothing new or novel about it.”

Paul Saltman wearing a white lab coat and posing with a beaker filled with liquid, the other hand on his hip

Further, Paul deeply believed that one of the scientist's primary responsibilities is to communicate, in the broadest possible way, important and accurate scientific facts and knowledge within the context of their social and ethical importance. Indeed, throughout his career he did countless radio and television programs, including a half-hour series called Patterns of Life for National Educational Television and a series for the Public Broadcasting System. He even “acted” the role of a scientist in the documentary film, "Why Man Creates." He authored the first of the Courses by Newspapers sequence for the National Saltman Endowment for the Humanities titled America and the Future of Man, and published numerous articles on nutrition and scientific developments in professional journals as well as popular magazines and newspapers. He also served on national and international editorial boards for scientific journals and was a consultant to the National Institutes of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Science Foundation and dozens of regional and local agencies.

For his efforts he received numerous accolades and awards. They included the Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health, the first Career Teaching Award from the San Diego Division of the Academic Senate, and Excellence in Teaching Awards from four colleges at UCSD and Honorary Alumnus of the Year from the UCSD Alumni Association.

Paul Saltman’s career at UCSD spanned 32 years, he served as provost of Revelle College from 1967 to 1972 and as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs from 1972 to 1980. However, he always found the time for his first passion: teaching.

The Great Teacher and Communicator.

Paul Saltman talking and sitting with a group of students in a circle on the grass

Professor Saltman was widely known throughout our UCSD community for his enthusiasm for teaching and his extraordinary ability to effectively share his knowledge about science and his passion for life. He cared deeply about students’ education and entire well-being.

Students lauded Professor Saltman for his extraordinary teaching and leadership skills. One student wrote "What makes Professor Saltman stand out from all the others is how deeply he feels about what he says, and how he makes everyone feel. I walked away from his class thinking, this guys is my hero!” Another student applying to medical school wrote: "I am very thankful that I have come into contact with you as you have helped me to build and refine my lifelong goal of healing, learning and helping others. I hope that one day I will influence others to the degree that you have influenced me. Nothing has been more positive."

Paul Saltman standing in front a blackboard and lecturing to students in a lecture hall

When asked, “What makes a great teacher?” Saltman surmised, “Knowledge, skills, the ability to comprehend the process of human understanding, and the ability to inspire students and excite them with the notion of learning.” He called the teacher-student relationship an interactive process of giving and sharing. "I don't want kids to grow up to be Paul," he said. "I want kids to grow up to the limits of their own human potential."

Perhaps no student knew Paul Saltman better than Linda Strause, class of 1974, Revelle College. “He was my professor, lab supervisor and years later, my post-doc advisor. He was my lifelong mentor, my second father. Apart from my own father, I have never respected anyone more than I respected Paul. Today, I find myself following in his footsteps. I teach Nutrition at UCSD and I try to inspire my students by sharing my personal insights about Paul. I have known thousands of UCSD students would have benefited tremendously by just knowing him.

“Some people become doctors to heal the sick,” Paul said. “I became a teacher to make people more well, to share with students the pleasure of learning just as other people have shared with me.”

His legacy lives on.

Last year marked the tenth anniversary of Paul Saltman’s passing but his legacy lives on at UCSD in many ways. The Paul D. Saltman Endowed Chair in Science Education was established in 1999 to recognize a distinguished senior member of Biological Sciences faculty for his/her commitment to, and success in teaching science. Professor Robert Schmidt, the current chairholder, says, “It’s a distinct privilege to serve in this role and continue my work in Paul’s name. Paul was my trusted colleague, mentor and confidante and I share his deep passion for educating our next generation of science leaders.”

Front page of a Saltman Quarterly journal

Six years ago, three Biology student leaders, Marika Orlov, Louis Nguyen and Greg Emmanuel founded a student research journal and named it the Saltman Quarterly in honor of Professor Saltman. They never took his class or even met him in person because he passed before their time. Yet, his legacy inspired them because he personally inspired thousands of UCSD students who came before them. Matthew Croskey, Editor-in-Chief, says, “it’s truly an honor and privilege to carry on this tradition of dedication to learning that Dr. Saltman inspired in so many people…it’s our contribution of keeping his legacy alive and paying it forward for the next generation of UCSD students.”

The Division of Biological Sciences created the highly popular Science Matters annual lecture series in 2004. Through Science Matters, our scientists take complex, cutting-edge research, make it easy-to-understand and present it to thousands of San Diegans each year. The annual series is also broadcast to millions of Americans via UC Television and internet broadcasting. Gabriele Wienhausen, Associate Dean for Education and longtime colleague of Paul Saltman’s says, “This program was created in large part as homage to Paul. We hope that it will continue to fulfill his vision and passion for communicating science and sharing scientific knowledge to the greatest extent in our community. Paul was a teacher who inspired every student with whom he came in contact. His love of learning, his enthusiasm for science, his communication skills, made him a role model for students and faculty alike. My tenure here has been enriched by knowing him--by his advice, his personal integrity, his passion for teaching and for life."

Steve Kay, Dean of Biological Sciences, echoes those sentiments and says, “Paul was the kind of teacher, scholar and gentleman one meets perhaps once in a lifetime. His selfless devotion to teaching and mentoring students embodies the essence of our great university and will continue to inspire our biology faculty and students for years to come.”

Former University of California President and UCSD Chancellor Richard Atkinson reflects on Paul Saltman’s life and says, Paul was a Renaissance man, whose integrity, scholarly interests, and love of learning were reflected in all he did. He brought incredible honor to UCSD campus and to the entire University of California community."

Saltman once said, “Although we continue to attract many of the world’s greatest scholars, the continual erosion of our revenue from the state is disconcerting.” Though his comments were made more than a decade ago, they resonate strongly with us today in our current budget climate. Ever the optimist, however, Saltman never wavered in his commitment to UCSD, “I think this will always be a great university,” he said.

As we face today’s challenges head on and plan for the future of Biological Sciences at UCSD, we heed Paul Saltman’s words, “The future of America is going to be dependent upon the quality of science education.”

We salute you, Professor Saltman, for your extraordinary leadership, academic brilliance, irreverent wit and charm and most of all, for your uncompromising commitment to students and colleagues. Your legacy will always live on at UC San Diego.

Paul Saltman posing and staring at the camera sitting behind a desk with a pencil in one hand with a book open in front of him.

Professor Paul Saltman (1928-1999)

I live in a symbiotic world of teaching and learning – professors and students who change from one form to the other upon intervention by an outside force. Teaching and learning must always be entwined and become one identity.” Paul Saltman, 1997