Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Photo from the Nobel foundation archive

Date of birth: 1 May, 1852. Petilla de Aragón, Spain.

Date of death: 17 October, 1934. Madrid, Spain.

Nobel Prize awardee in Physiology or Medicine 1906.

Prize motivation: “in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.”

Biography

Santiago Ramón y Cajal was born in 1852 in a small town located in the north of Spain, Petilla de Aragón.

He was a talented artist, but his father, who was dedicated to medicine, inclined him to follow his own steps. He started his studies in Medicine in Zaragoza and graduated in 1873.

At age 21, he was called to serve as an army medic and to take part in an expedition to Cuba (1874-1875). After he came back he received his PhD in Medicine at the University of Madrid (1877). In 1883, he became a professor of anatomy at the University of Valencia, until 1887 when he moved to Barcelona for a professorship and he first learned about Golgi’s method. Later, in 1892 he took a new position as a professor in Madrid. Stablished in Madrid, he became director of the National Institute of Hygine, in 1899, and in 1922 founder of the Laboratoty of Biological Investigations, later renamed to Instituto Cajal. Santiago Ramón y Cajal was married with seven children.

Work

In 1887, when Ramón y Cajal was working as a professor in Barcelona, he became in contact with Golgi’s staining. This technique allowed him to visualize, precisely, the morphology of the components of the nervous systems. Studying intensely what he was now, able to see, made him achieve brilliant results that lead him to propose the neuronal theory. His main contribution was to postulate that each nerve cell is independent, and synapses transfer nerve impulses from one cell to another.  

He equipped us with a majestic fusion of science and art in his abundant drawings where he could express his profound comprehension of the nervous system in his detailed illustrations.

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