The Legacy of Santiago Ramón y Cajal, available on the Simurg portal

Cajal Institute – News

Santiago Ramón y Cajal, due to his brilliant career as a researcher, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1906. In 1907, he was appointed president of the Board for the Expansion of Studies and Biological Research (JAE, 1907-1939), affiliated with the Ministry of Public Instruction and Fine Arts.

As the president of the JAE (1907-1932), Cajal led the largest scientific regeneration and modernization project carried out in Spain in the early 20th century. During his lengthy presidency, he encouraged structural changes in the Spanish educational system, with the JAE being the precursor to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC).

Santiago Ramón y Cajal is often referred to as the “father of modern neuroscience” for his outstanding studies on the microscopic anatomy of the nervous system, his observations on the degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system, and his theories on the function, development, and plasticity of virtually the entire nervous system. Cajal positioned Spain at the forefront of international science at that time. Even after almost fifty years of work (1887-1934), his research continues to captivate and inspire modern neuroscientists worldwide.

Cajal’s masterpiece, “Texture of the Nervous System of Man and Vertebrates,” is still cited hundreds of times each year. His works on the degeneration and regeneration of the nervous system and the structure of the retina are also considered classics. Throughout his career, Cajal published over three hundred articles, not all of them related to neuroscience. It’s a little-known fact that he discovered a cholera vaccine and also contributed to cancer research. Additionally, Cajal was a pioneer in color photography (he published the work “The Photography of Colors”). He wrote short fiction stories (“Holiday Tales”), a collection of worldly wisdom (“Coffee Talks”), an account of extreme old age experiences (“The World Seen at Eighty Years”), a scientific guide (“Advice for a Young Investigator”), and an unforgettable autobiography (“Recollections of My Life”). When Cajal won the Nobel Prize in 1906, he became a national hero. To this day, there is a street named after him in practically every Spanish city.

Most of Cajal’s scientific legacy was deposited at the Cajal Institute, which later became part of the CSIC. The original legacy has been complemented and expanded with materials from some of Cajal’s direct disciples (Spanish Histology School) and other scientists. In 2023, this legacy was transferred to the National Museum of Natural Sciences in Madrid, awaiting its final location in a future museum dedicated to his memory and school. Collectively, this heritage is known as the “Cajal Legacy,” and in large part, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2017.

The “Cajal Legacy,” inventoried in 2008, consists of over 28,000 items, many of which can already be consulted in the new Cajal Space:

  • Drawings and scientific paintings belonging to Cajal and various members of his school
  • Distinctions: medals, decorations, and awards, including the Von Helmholtz gold medal, the Nobel Prize, and the Echegaray Prize
  • Photographs
  • Scientific instruments, including dyes, reagents, and solutions
  • Scientific-technical instruments: cameras, microscopes, scales…
  • Furniture, including the work table and chair, cabinets for chemical preparations, and showcases
  • Artistic objects
  • Personal items, including his last glasses, wallet, cane, passport, identification card, professor’s robe, and bellows camera
  • Microscopic preparations (histological), of which 3,000 are original Cajal works

Cajal’s histological drawings are particularly noteworthy, initially considered by some researchers as artistic interpretations rather than precise copies of his histological preparations. However, Cajal’s drawings are undoubtedly pieces of reality, reliable copies of histological preparations showing the micro-organization of the nervous system.

The Cajal Space is born with the aim of growing and continuing to incorporate material of undoubted value for the History of Spanish Science. The personal library of this researcher, with over a thousand copies, has already begun to be digitized and made available, with many of them already accessible on the portal. In the medium term, it is expected to also incorporate Cajal’s documentary archive, including over 4,000 documents with correspondence and scientific manuscripts.

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