CBE - On our origins    (if you don't see a menu on the left, use this link)

The Department of Crystallography and Structural Biology (in Spanish, CBE,Cristalografía y Biología Estructura l) came into being with this current name in January 2010, when the Spanish National Research Council (in Spanish, CSIC, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas) gave approval for this new title choice.

However, the origins of our department (previously under different names, although always directly connected to crystallography) can be traced back to the early 1930's when the Board for Advanced Studies and Scientific Research (in Spanish, JAE: Junta de Ampliación de Estudios) inaugurated on the 6th February 1932 the so called National Institute of Physics and Chemistry. During the
long period 1946-2023 it was known as Institute of Physical Chemistry "Rocasolano" (nickname IQFR), and since 2023 it has been renamed as Institute of Physical Chemistry "Blas Cabrera" (nickname IQF). In any case, it is a beautiful building dedicated to scientific research and funded by the Rockefeller Jr. Foundation. The aim of this institute, where our department is located, inherited the principles of the JAE, an independent teaching and research institution, created in 1907 and aimed to help Spain’s to end its isolation and forge links with European science and culture. Its library offers some documents about its history.

The "Rockefeller", former National Institute of Physics and Chemistry. Click on it to see other images.
The former National Institute of Physics and Chemistry (Instituto Nacional de Física y Química, Madrid) inaugurated in February 1932. Its nickname, “The Rockefeller” derives from the fact that it was built using funds ($420.000) from the Rockefeller Junior Foundation. Click on the image to see a movie and several images taken during the 1930s

Through this link you can see a movie and several pictures of "The Rockefeller" taken during the 1930s

The Institute of Physical Chemistry "Rocasolano". Click on it to go to the Institute web site
“The Rockefeller”, today. As Institute of Physical Chemistry “Blas Cabrera” (Institute of Physical Chemistry "Rocasolano" until May 2023 ), is one of the more relevant research Institutes of the CSIC, the Spanish National Research Council. Click on the image to visit the Institute web site

In 2022 we have celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the Inauguration of our Institute
and the journal "Anales de Química de la Real Sociedad Española de Química" dedicated the cover and a description of the event that took place on October 19, 2022. In 2023 the Institute changed its name to Instituto de Química Física "Blas Cabrera".

90 Anniversary of the InstituteThe Institute changed its name in 2023

The video shown below was also presented during this Anniversary. It describes the actual composition of the Institute and includes some other images from 1932.

A short video made in 2022 to celebrate the 90th anniversary
A copy of the original source for this video (1920x1080 ppp) in english can be downloaded from here. Click here for the spanish version.

X-ray laboratory in the Rockefeller. Click on it to get a larger image
The X-ray Laboratory in "The Rockefeller" during the 1930's. Julio Palacios is standing on the left, behind the X-ray tube. Click on it to get a larger image

Weissenberg cameras and X-ray tubes used in "The Rockefeller" during the 1950-1960 decades
X-ray tubes and Weissenberg cameras used in "The Rockefeller" during the 1950s and early 1960s. Click on it to get a larger image

Although it is somewhere else explained (in a especial chapter dedicated to the history of the Crystallograpy in Spain), very early at the beginning of the XX century, Spanish crystallographers were aware of the international advances in this field.

Blas CabreraBlas Cabrera (1878-1945)  –who later became director of our Institute, the Instituto Nacional de Física y Química  wrote a report in 1915 on the novel application of X-rays to determine the structure of materials in the same Spanish journal Anales de la Sociedad Española de Física y Química, published in four communications: part I, part II, part III, part IV. And by 1926, the journal Anales de la Sociedad Española de Física y Química (Proceedings of the Spanish Royal Society of Chemistry and Physics) published the first research article in Spain directly related to crystal structure determination using X-ray crystallography: "Determination of the crystal structure of nickel oxide, cobalt and lead sulfide", signed by Felisa Martin Bravo and performed under the direction of  Julio Palacios (see below).

Julio PalaciosJulio Palacios (1891-1970) (see also this link), a pupil of Blas Cabrera at the Instituto Nacional de Física y Química, and Francisco Pardillo at the  department of Mineralogy of the University of Barcelona, formed the first Spanish groups of modern Crystallography.

Luis Rivoir, and some other young researchers, worked with Julio Palacios at the Physics Research Laboratories on structure determinations of inorganic and organic crystals and on the perfection of the Fourier methods of analysis. And at the same time, not far away from our department, Gabriel Martin Cardoso (at the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid)  trained Julio Garrido, who later moved to the Palacios group.

The definitive push to crystallographic studies by X-ray diffraction came through the work of Julio Palacios, when he moved in 1932 to the "Rockefeller" institute, recruiting the funds and equipment that he inherited from the "Ramón y Cajal" Chair and with young researchers whose scientific value became apparent very soon, such as Julio Garrido, Luis Bru, Jorge Doetsch, José M. Rios, Armando Durán, J. Barasoain, J. Losada, L. Rubio, Piedad de la Cierva, R. Fernández, O. Foz, Feo, R. Salvia, and Luis Rivoir, among others. With these resources, the first doctoral thesis based on X-ray diffraction studies was born in the "Rockefeller" (Determination of the Molecular Structure of acetone, ethyl ether, methyl ether and ethyl halocarbons by electron diffraction) signed by Luis Bru and awarded with the "Alonso Barba" prize of the Spanish Royal Society of Chemistry and Physics. And this was followed by other prestigious doctoral theses such as the one by Julio Garrido, Piedad de la Cierva and J. Losada.

The impetus of all those young crystallographers after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) created the foundation of current Spanish Crystallography, and among them, Luis Rivoir headed the very first X-ray Department at the "Rockefeller", at that time named Instituto de Fisica “Alonso de Santa Cruz”, belonging to the CSIC as founded in 1939.

By the year 1946, the staff of the  "X-ray Section" was composed by Julio Palacios, Manuel Abbad, Julio Garrido, Luis Rivoir, Fernando Huerta and Jaime Chacón, the last two as trainees, but it was not until a year later when the Section started to detect increased activity, and so Pilar Smith, Demetrio Santana, Carmen Agudo, R. Menéndez, Luis Blanco and Florentino Gómez Ruimonte joined the Section.
The very first article published in Acta Cryst. by our predecesors
Julio Garrido MarecaJulio Garrido (1911-1982). In 1948, when Acta Crystallographica appeared, the very first article published in its first volume was signed by Julio Garrido, entitled “Observations sur la diffusion des rayons X par les cristaux de ClO3Na” (Acta Cryst. (1948) 1, 3-4). In that first issue there was also a note from J. Garrido about the carnitine structure, as well as a review of the book by J. Garrido and J. Orland “Los rayos X y la estructura fina de los cristales: Fundamentos teóricos y Métodos prácticos” (1946), a clear signal of the international significance of some of the work being undertaken at the "X-ray Section".  Julio Garrido spent some years in Chile and several photos from him can be found in the nice collection offered by Patricio CorderoLuis Bru (1909-1997) wrote a short obituary about Julio Garrido in a Spanish newspaper (1982).  See also this short CV of Julio Garrido published by the Spanish Royal Academy of History.

It was also in 1948, when Julio Palacios moved for a long time to Lisbon, that the "X-ray Section" was reorganized. Luis Rivoir became head of the group and as scientific assistants M. Abbad and J. Garrido. Also in that year other young trainees joined the group, Severino Garcia-Blanco, Alejo Garrido, Virtudes Gomis and, as a drawing technician, Josefina Marqueríe.
In 1949 Sagrario Martínez Carrera, Antonio Rodríguez Pedrazuela, Isidoro Asensio and José Martínez Ors joined the Section and coinciding with the beginning of the new decade, there was a strategic approach of some actions that could be considered as a prelude to the laboratory automation, naturally in the context of those years. Therefore, to shorten the time spent for thousands of numerical operations required for the calculation of Patterson or electron density maps, the huge work of preparing the so-called "Beever-Lipson strips were undertaken. At the same time, the stay of a figure so prominently in the specialty as Martin J. Buerger, with his minimum function, gave a strong impetus to the methodology for the interpretation of Patterson maps.
Also in 1949, the CSIC founded the Spanish National Committee for Crystallography, which joined the International Union of Crystallography (IUCr) created just two years before, in 1947.
In 1950, the Spanish Association of Crystallography (in Spanish, ACE, Asociación Cristalográfica Española) was founded with 35 members, including, among others, Luis Rivoir and Manuel Abad forming part of the first Board of Governors. Many important crystallographers were invited to the "Rockefeller" during those years, including Taylor, Laval, Lipson, Jeffrey, Wyckoff, Hägg, Buerger, Zädonov, Fornaseri, MacGillavry, Strunz, Henry Today, this association is called Grupo Español de Cristalografía y Crecimiento Cristalino, GE3C.

The decade of the 1950's started with new doctoral theses, and new trainees joined the Section, Julián López de Lerma, José Alonso López, Elena Carrillo Garcia and Aurea Perales Alcón, among others, and some international events were organized in Madrid on behalf of the IUCr. Some young researchers of the Section went away for long stays in laboratories of strategic importance. So, Severino Garcia-Blanco moved to the MIT in Massachusetts, and the intrepid young Sagrario Martínez-Carrera joined the University of Amsterdam, for both to learn techniques for imaging search, and the three-dimensional methodology for structural resolution.

See also the PhD work (in Spanish) written by Xavier Mañes Beltrán about the development of crystallography in Spain during the period 1912-1955.

During the 1960's students knew that Crystallography in Spain was centered around two main schools, one in Barcelona (University of Barcelona) and the other in Madrid, at the "Rockefeller", around both Sagrario Martínez-Carrera (1925-2011) and Severino García-Blanco (1922-2003).

Sagrario Martínez-CarreraSeverino García-Blanco
Left: Sagrario Martínez-Carrera (1925-2011)
Right: Severino García-Blanco (1922-2003)

The 1960's lead to a further restructuring of the group and the former "X-ray Section" was renamed as "Crystal Structure", with two laboratories led by S. Garcia-Blanco and L. Rivoir, respectively, and incorporated new young people (Pedro Salvador, Jose Fayos Alcañiz, Cayetano Martínez Pérez, Feliciana Florencio Sabaté, Félix Hernández Cano, Francisco Sanz Ruiz, Celia Lupiani, Concepción Foces and Martín Martínez-Ripoll, and as assistant Maria Auxiliadora Valle, who was later replaced by Isabel Izquierdo). And finally new administrative changes carried out also during those years, modified the status of the crystallographers at the "Rockefeller" (at that time officially named Institute of Physical Chemistry "Rocasolano"), and the old "X-ray Section" gained the status of Department (as the "X-ray Department").

But it was the tireless Sagrario Martínez-Carrera, who in 1962 prepared her luggage again, this time towards the University of Pittsburg in the United States to work under Prof. Jeffrey with the main goal of improving their learning to address problems on the emerging "electronic computing" that replaced the Beevers-Lipson strips and the early calculation machines. After her return from Pittsburgh and thanks to her broad background in programming in Fortran and in Autocode, she prepared a series of computer programs, which were humorously called "steps forward" by the young Cayetano Martinez, since they were mandatory for the early stages of processing the diffraction data. With all that, the noisy machine IBM 7070, just installed at the CSIC, was unexpectedly overloaded by the work that came continuously from the "Rockefeller", accummulating cabinets and pillars of punched cards.

X-ray tubes and Weissenber cameras (1950's-1960's)
X-ray tubes and Weissenberg cameras used in "The Rockefeller" during the 1950s and early 1960s.

The first 4-circle diffractometer (1973)
PW1100, the first automated 4-circle diffractometer installed in Spain (1973). Severino García-Blanco is explaining Julio Rodríguez Martínez, the Minister of Education and Science (the one in the middle), the benefits of the automated four-circle diffractometry vs. the photographic methods.

The 1970’s brought the first automated four-circle single-crystal diffractometer which slowly replaced the older Weissenberg and precession cameras. And  this decade came with new incorporations, Angel Vegas, Enrique Gutiérrez-Puebla, Ángeles Monge Bravo, Isabel Fonseca and María del Carmen Apreda (with her indestructible Argentine accent). From all corners appeared an avalanche of requests for collaborations, since Spanish chemists had discovered the importance of the molecular structure!

It was really a success, and a greater joy at the Department, when Julio Rodriguez, a committed Minister of Education and Science, gave some extraordinary funds for the acquisition and installation of the first automated four-circle diffractometer (a PW1100). Some colleagues from other departments called it "la churrera" (something that makes things very fast and easy!). Somehow they were right because it allowed us to do in a week what previously required three months of work using the Weissenberg cameras and the photometers (that is, the diffraction experiment and measurement of the diffracted intensities). However it had no sense to explain to our collegues that "la churrera" unfortunately could not solve the phase problem!.

In 1974 our Department was also in charge of organizing the IUCr Inter Congress Conference on Anomalous Scattering.

1974 Anomalous Scattering
From left to right: Dorothy Hodgkin, S.C. Abrahams and S. Martínez-Carrera during the IUCr Inter Congress Conference on Anomalous Scattering (Madrid, 1974)

New doctoral theses were produced during that decade and many articles were published in international journals (many of them in Acta Crystallographica), and some of us (F.H. Cano, J. Fayos and M. Martinez-Ripoll) went away during the 1970's for longer stays in other labs in the United Kingdom,
United States and Germany, respectively, to learn the most relevant crystallographic advantages that later were incorporated to the department.

Félix Hernández Cano learned in Manchester (UK) how to use the famous "X-Ray System", as  well as 
Martin Martinez-Ripoll did in Freiburg im Breisgau (Germany), who also imported the know-how with the main-frame computers from his long stay in Germany. All this accumulated knowledge produced some considerable discomfort for the managers and technicians of the huge Data Processing Centre (based on a Univac 1108) of the Ministry of Education and Science, where we went every day with a lot of calculations, making use of dozens of magnetic tapes as well as the famous "Fastrand" (a magnetic disk with cylindrical shape, huge in size, but not in capacity, and rotating at the dizzying speed of 15 revolutions per second!). Glorious era in which the department organized a fantastic library of crystallographic computer programs covering absolutely all stages of a structural resolution and which could be accessed from all Spanish universities.

And so we reached the 1980's, and the people of the department grew not only in experience, but also in age...  We got the funds to buy a computer, the so-called "Rocky", a complete computer system of the VAX-11/750 series with a "monstrous" 250 MB disk on which, in addition to the operating system, we had to allocate the entire crystallographic computing system in addition to the diffraction data for each user. With "Rocky", with 5 additional workstations located in various institutes of the CSIC, we set up the very first scientific calculation network of the institution and whose effectiveness was beyond any doubt.

The Department's people during the 1980's. For names click on the image
The people working at the Department of Crystallography in 1983.
For names, click on the image!

Additionally, during many years, since 1986, an effort was made by our department to give support to all remaining Spanish crystallographers, by collecting data, creating and maintaining the first crystallographic software collections in Spain (installed in a UNIVAC mainframe of the Spanish Ministry of Education and Science), and making an extra effort to reach an agreement with the Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre (CCDC) and the CSIC for a free-of-charge distribution of the CSD crystallographic database for all academic institutions around the whole country. This agreement, thanks to the generosity of the CCDC, later covered all Latin American countries and was running until 2012.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Félix Hernández Cano and Martin Martinez-Ripoll published the very first version of our website on Crystallography. And during those years, we also learned how to automate a prototype of a four-circle goniometer (including all end-user program packages), which subsequently sold the factory Rich.Seifert u.Co. (Germany). It included not only all the best features we had previously discovered in both, the Nonius-CAD4 and the PW1100 diffractometers, but also it contained many new improvements and functions, being able even to recognize and separate twins . It was really a nice and interesting job!

The automated 4-circle diffractometer programmed in our department. Click on it to get a larger image
CRYSOM, the single-crystal four-circle diffractometer fully programmed by us in MS-DOS Fortran for the former company Rich. Seifert & Co. (Ahrensburg, Germany)

Our beloved and unforgettable Sagrario Martinez-Carrera retired in 1990...

Sagrario Martinez-Carrera retirement. Click on it to get a larger image
Sagrario Martinez-Carrera with her colleagues celebrating her retirement in 1990
(Click on the image to get a larger copy)
3rd row (rear) from left to right: A. Vegas, Félix H. Cano, M. Martinez-Ripoll
2nd row from left to right: A.Llamas, C. Foces-Foces, F. Florencio, J.A. Hermoso, A. Romero, J. López de Lerma
1st row (front) from left to right: J. Fayos, F. Gómez Ruimonte, S. Martínez-Carrera, J. Marqueríe, P. Smith, S. García-Blanco

Sagrario Martinez-Carrera retirement. Click on it to get a larger image
Sagrario Martinez-Carrera showing a pendant simulating her beloved imidazole molecule. Imidazole was the first molecule whose structure was solved by Sagrario for the first time at low temperature, in 1966.  F.H. Cano is sitting on her left side.
(Click on the image to get a larger copy)

Also during the 1990's some of us (see below) decided to make a big jump into the field of protein crystallography... It was not an easy job, but even starting with a small equipment (a small rotating anode and an imaging plate), we did it! And this time also with the biggest effort made by the youngest researchers of the department (mainly Julia Sanz, Armando Albert and Juan Hermoso) during their scientific stays abroad (UK and France).

A small group started with protein crystallography
The small group who started with macromolecular crystallography...
Front (left to right): B. González, R. Sánchez
Rear (left to right): J.A. Hermoso, A. Alonso, J. Sanz-Aparicio, A. Albert, M. Martínez-Ripoll
(Click on the image to get a larger copy)

A small imaging plate and a rotating anode
A small imaging plate and a rotating anode to start with

Since those years our department had an important presence in the field of structural biology. In 1995 a Workshop on the Three-Dimensional Structure of Biological Macromolecules, that took place in the Juan March Foundation, was organized by T.L. Blundell, M. Martínez-Ripoll, M. Rico and J.M. Mato.

Click on it to get a larger image
From left to right: M. Rico, J.M. Mato, T.L. Blundell and M. Martínez-Ripoll during the Workshop on the Three-Dimensional Structure of Biological Macromolecules
(Juan March Foundation, Madrid, 1995)

And few years later, in 2000, we had the opportunity to receive Max Perutz in the context of his conference at the Fundación de Ciencias de la Salud (FCS).

Max Perutz and M. Martinez-Ripoll
Max Perutz (left) and Martin Martínez-Ripoll  (right) during a conference at the Fundacion de Ciencias de la Salud (Madrid, 2000)

Since those years the department became one of the most important places in Spain to learn crystallography and to work in macromolecular crystallography. We invite you to see who we are today, what we do, and what we offer, through the menu items seen on the left of this web page (if you do not see such menu on the left, please, use this link).

Visit our crystallographic tutorialFinally, we should also mention that we all have been (and are) strongly implied in disseminating science, specially crystallography, and in this context we maintain a succesful web site (offered in both English and Spanish) dedicated to teach and attract students to the magic world of crystallography.