Ramón y Cajal, Nobel and senator

A bust in the historic building of the Senate testifies that Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the most outstanding researcher that Spanish science has given, was a member of that Chamber from 1908 to 1923. This fact usually goes unnoticed in the passionate biography of the Aragonese scientist, one of the few historical figures that has a street or square in all the provincial capitals of Spain.

José María Mur came across that bust when, in 2003, he took office as regional senator. There arose the interest to delve deeper into that stage of the Nobel Prize’s life and the result is the publication of the book Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Senator of the Kingdom of Spain (Ed. Doce Robles). It has already been presented in Huesca and Zaragoza and will soon be held in Jaca and in the Senate.

«My relationship with Cajal begins early, when at the age of ten I go to study at Ramón y Cajal de Huesca. Soon after, I was pleased to discover some of his books published in the Austral collection, such as his delicious The World Seen at 80 Years Old ». There I discover that in addition to being a world-class scientist, we are above all a citizen, according to the classical concept of the Greek polis, a facet overshadowed by his impressive dimension as a scientist “, indicates Mur.

The veteran politician, founder of PAR, president of the Cortes from 1999 to 2003, deputy in Congress from 1989 to 1996 and senator from 2003 to 2011 wanted to write “a book that would be read with pleasure with different chapters, that would contribute new and to delve above all into that humanistic facet of an essential figure in science and in Spanish intellectual life». And, indeed, the book provides extensive documentation and an outstanding bibliographic review, with didactic writing and provides relevant data, such as the three commissions in which Cajal participated as senator to advance the works of the roads from Lagunarrota to El Alcanadre, the highway from Boltaña to Nocito or the one from Blesa to Daroca.

«Ramón y Cajal intervened little in that Senate that was as discredited as it is now. In fact, At that time, he was a senator by appointment and he only accepted on the condition that he was not paid. Nor did he ever want to enter any government, even if he was close to the liberals. “. So, being a senator meant a deposit of 7,000 pesetas, the equivalent of the annual salary of a university professor. In reality, Ramón y Cajal accepted to be a senator, first appointed by the Madrid Faculty of Medicine and then for life, until in 1923 Primo de Rivera suspended the Senate with a single objective: «He wanted to raise funds for the university and research, because his role in the Board for the Expansion of Studies and his vocation for the dissemination of knowledge were extraordinary “, recalls Mur, who also indicates that Cajal was” the forerunner of Erasmus “, since” now that exchange of students seems normal, but at the beginning of the 20th century it was not, and Ramón y Cajal not only traveled a lot, but also invited many researchers and students to Spain, mainly from the German school ». Even so, his career was full of obstacles. Even, as it appears in the book, he had to sell a valuable manual to self-finance (in the face of the refusal of the University of Barcelona to pay for it) a training trip to Berlin that was transcendental for his knowledge in neurology that would earn him the Nobel Prize in 1906 together to Camillo Golgi for discovering neurons and the structure of the nervous system.

The figure of Ramón y Cajal is of incalculable dimension, but it has not always been well publicized. While his office bequeathed to the public heritage still remains in warehouses, greater recognition is lacking, although Mur is optimistic. “I perceive a certain cajalmanía that I hope that next year, which has been declared the Year of Science, will bear fruit in interesting things.” He is convinced that this will be the case, and mentions two Aragonese who lead that cajalmanía: Fernando Solsona and Alberto Jiménez Schuhmacher.

Mur recalls that in 2006 the first great tribute act was held in Madrid, with the CSIC and the family ready, after a few years of ups and downs, to dignify their figure. The veteran Aragonese politician also highlights that he is optimistic and thinks that Aragon will also honor the memory of the scientist. «And that this land has always been complicated. It is enough to remember that Ramón y Cajal was raffled off at the universities while the misgivings of three professors at the University of Zaragoza whom no one remembers today prevented him from being a professor here.

“I have realized how complex it is to write a book, and it has taken me time, but I hope it can serve to bring a fundamental character in our history closer together,” says the retired politician, although he follows closely “and with much concern ”, the political news and also that of his party, the PAR. Anyone who has been a struggling politician never walks away completely.

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Ramón y Cajal, Nobel and senator