portada de BMM

The city of knowledge

by Vladimir de Semir proposing councillor of the city of knowledge

Barcelona has yet to face many challenges, among them, that of bringing scientific and technological knowledge onto the streets and achieving the same level of public participation in the world of knowledge as that which exists in the city's cultural and artistic festivals. Just as happened with the Olympics of 1992, we are now in a situation where a chain reaction is possible and where the necessary cooperation might be forthcoming - right across the ideological spectrum - in order to convert Barcelona into the Mediterranean capital of that pdge, descendant of the knowledge of myth which led to the foundation of western civilisation. Is there any reason not to also promote Barcelona as a benchmark city in the ideas debate?

The conditions for achieving about this ambitious objective for the city could not be better: to the booming economy and the increasingly well-educated population, we must now add the growing investment in telecommunication infrastructure. These three conditions are, in themselves, highly favourable. However, there is yet another element which makes the time and the place so perfect. This fourth factor is the project to convert the Poblenou area of Barcelona, a triangle lying between the seafront and the Besòs river and with its vertex touching the Plaça de les Glòries, into a centre of knowledge, combining research and housing, companies and the university, and new economic enterprises closely linked to knowledge, information and communication technologies and the world of arts and culture, and so on. Nor should we forget the driving force which will no doubt be exercised by the Universal Forum of Cultures 2004. Poblenou is set to undergo a profound transformation in which its historic past, with its links to the Industrial Revolution, will give way to another revolution: the Knowledge Revolution. This is one of the great challenges facing Barcelona over the coming years and it will also provide the city with an opportunity to prosper and thrive in the spirit of this Knowledge Revolution which will undoubtedly mark the 21st century. (…)

Scientific Barcelona
by Jaume Josa, institutional coordinator,
CSIC (Council for Scientific Research) in Catalonia.

(This article is based on a paper given by Jaume Josa at the workshop "Science and the City", held in Barcelona City Hall on 10 November 1999).
Now that we are talking of the City of Knowledge, it is important, indeed vital from my point of view, to bear in mind the progress that has already been made in science up to now; we are not starting from scratch. We are part of a long tradition and Barcelona in general has been part of the life-beat of science through its institutions and inhabitants. It is always instructive to cast a glance back over history to the prophets of science, Bacon and Descartes, to the origin of what were later to become the scientific academies. (…) The early academies were outstandingly important. Those groups of intellectuals, restless, inquiring minds coming together in the backroom of the chemist's shop or a rented or borrowed apartment, to begin the process of knowing, of knowledge, interchanging their knowledge with the other societies. (…)

Barcelona also felt the effect of the scientific academies; there was one of special interest, the Acadèmia dels Desconfiats (the Academy of the Untrusting), whose motto was "certain because untrusting". The Academy of the Untrusting was the forerunner of the Academy of Belles Lettres. Barcelona also had its Academy of Sciences and Arts, which first began life under the title of the Physio-Mathematical Experimental Conference in 1764, with meetings in the backroom of a chemist's shop near the Plaça de Sant Jaume, before later moving to a garret in the Boqueria market. In 1765, it changed its name to The Royal Physics Conference and, still later, it became the Royal Academy of Science and Arts, but not before it had another name-change, this time the Royal Academy of Natural Sciences and Arts. The academies, as you can see, played an important role in our city too.

The Civil Associations, both scientific and otherwise, comprised another influential movement for science in Barcelona. For example, there was the excursionisme científic or scientific hill walking groups, that played such an important role in promoting knowledge of nature and which was firmly intertwined with the Renaixença movement. Such institutions as the Catalan Institution for Natural History have their roots in excursionisme científic. (…)

Another major area in which Barcelona played an active role was the Darwin controversy. (…) This leads us to another great figure, who I am pleased to mention just as I am pleased to speak about Pompeius Gener, this curious and singular character who was to bring fame to the name of the city with his famous visiting card self-proclaiming him as a Catalan Sage with an address at Gran Boulevard on Petritxol Street. The other great figure that I am pleased to mention here, and let it be taken as my own small homage to him, was the Professor of Natural History at the University of Barcelona, Odón de Buen, who was also a councillor on the city council. De Buen ran into serious problems at the University, but thanks to the help of the students and some members of the University Senate, he managed to avoid expulsion. Odón de Buen was a key figure in the Darwinian controversy in Barcelona. Indeed, all over Spain the controversy was to rage in the aftermath of that inaugural lecture by Augusto González Linares - the father of limnology, water studies and the interrelations among living creatures - in which he defended Darwin's theories. The Marquis of Orovio, Minister of Education, or as it was then known Ministro del Fomento, issued the infamous Circular de Orovio, prohibiting academic freedom and removing González from his position. This led to a series of supporting reactions. Of those who responded, several were expelled from the university, others were exiled inland and this led to one of the most significant teaching renovations ever to take place in Spain, the creation of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza (the Free Institution of Teaching).

Later on, and independently of this, the Junta para Ampliación de Estudios (Board for Continuing Studies) was founded. Now however, let us return to the Institución Libre de Enseñanza; once created, it soon set up its famous Instituto Escuela, which had an outstanding practical physics teacher who made his students study through daily practice. The main point of teaching was not books, but rather the notes, assignments, classes and field work. That teacher, chosen by the directors of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, was a Catalan, Josep Estalella, and he was the first physics teacher of the Institución Libre de Enseñanza, in the Instituto Escuela. Later on in Barcelona, when the Generalitat de Catalunya founded the Institut Escola in the Ciutadella Park, Estalella was called on to be its first director and the institution went on to be recognised and praised by many outstanding figures with links to the city of Barcelona, its university and research centres.
It is important that Barcelona should take science seriously, but it is also important to maintain the positive attitude that many Barcelonians have always had; an attitude which includes willingness to go to Madrid, Brussels, Strasbourg or wherever, when necessary. For example, in Brussels we have the CSIC teacher Rafael Rodríguez, who is also working for Barcelona, for the University of Barcelona and for all the city's research centres, and Dr. Banda, who is in Strasbourg, working in the European Science Foundation.

Similarly, I could mention another great figure, who was born in Barcelona but died in Madrid: Antonio de Zulueta, a major presence in the early days of genetics. Along with one of his students, Fernández Nonídez, he introduced Mendel's genetics into Spain. The Junta para Ampliación de Estudios, which was the other great movement of its day - let us remember that its first president was Santiago Ramón y Cajal, and its secretary general was José Castillejo, with his great vision of the state and outstanding organisational talent - was prompt to pick up on pioneering scientific work taking place around the world, whether in physics, chemistry or biology. The pensionados de la Junta scheme was introduced, whereby members were sent abroad to the scenes of scientific breakthrough and on their return were expected to give papers and publish a book on the new developments. This was the way in which Mendel's genetics was introduced into Spain by Antonio de Zulueta and José Fernández Nonídez so shortly after its appearance. We now have access to the first books and first steps taken in Mendelian genetics thanks to Fernández Nonídez, who was sent to a laboratory in the United States where a researcher named Morgan was beginning to carry out studies which someone told him would never work on a fly, the fruit or vinegar fly, Drosophila melanogaster, famous for its multiple and gigantic chromosomes. That was how Fernández Nonídez introduced genetics into Spain. (…)

In terms of publishing, Barcelona was very important, and this is an area which I think could now be improved. One hundred years ago, a journal began publication in Barcelona; it was known as El mundo científico. They were other times, but today there still is a journal by this name. There was also a journal called Ciència, revista catalana de ciència i tecnologia (Science, the Journal of Catalan Science and Technology). (…) Also of note were the medical monographs, Els Annals de Medicina, La Crònica Científica and a range of society journals. Barcelona was a major power in the field of science publishing and now it must continue to develop in this field, publishing journals and books, such as the Metatemes collection, for example, with its high readership and quality.