y Santiago Ramón Cajal

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(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

y Cajal, Santiago Ramón 1852-1934

Spanish histologist, essayist, and autobiographer.

A seminal figure in the field of neuroanatomy, Ramón y Cajal is numbered among the world's finest scientists. For his isolation of the nerve cell, or neuron, as the fundamental unit of the nervous system Ramón y Cajal was awarded the 1906 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine, an honor he shared with Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi. In addition to this groundbreaking achievement, Ramón y Cajal is recognized for his work relating to the structure of the brain and nervous system, the function of nerve impulses, the nature of vision, and the processes of neural degeneration and regeneration. He is likewise noted for his nonscientific writings, particularly his autobiography, Recuerdos de mi vida (Recollections of My Life).

Biographical Information

Ramón y Cajal was born in the village of Petilla de Aragon, Spain, on 1 May 1852, the son of Justo Ramón y Casasús, a barber and surgeon, and Antonia Cajal. A recalcitrant youth, Ramón y Cajal indulged his passion for drawing and neglected his studies. In time, his father persuaded him to study medicine. Ramón y Cajal was apprenticed to a barber, and later a cobbler, by his father, but continued to practice his art clandestinely. When he was somewhat older, Ramón y Cajal accompanied his father to a nearby churchyard where the two obtained bones for use in their study of anatomy. His interest in medicine piqued, he began to produce detailed sketches of the bones. At the age of sixteen, Ramón y Cajal embarked upon the formal study of medicine at the University of Zaragoza, graduating with a medical degree in 1873. His subsequent service as an army surgeon in Cuba was cut short when he contracted malaria and was returned to Spain. A long convalescence ensued, during which he earned a doctoral degree in medicine. From 1879 to 1883 Ramón y Cajal acted as director of the anatomical museum at the University of Zaragoza and began his work in cell biology. He accepted a position as professor of descriptive anatomy at the University of Valencia in 1883 and a professorship of histology at the University of Barcelona in 1887. He was named chair of histology at the University of Madrid in 1892.

In 1896 he produced his Manual de anatomia pathologica general and subsequently his Textura del sistema nervioso del hombre y de los vertebrados (New Ideas on the Structure of the Nervous System in Man and the Vertebrates) between 1899 and 1904. After years of relative neglect by the international scientific community, Ramón y Cajal's research on the anatomy of the nervous system was recognized in 1906 by the Nobel committee. Together with the Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi, who had developed a cell-staining process employed in research, Ramón y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine in that year. In 1913 and 1914, he published his two-volume Estudios sobre la degeneración y regeneración del sistema nervioso (Degeneration and Regeneration of the Nervous System). His reputation as an international authority on the anatomy and pathology of the nervous system long since secured, Ramón y Cajal was honored in 1920 by King Alfonso XIII of Spain, who commissioned the Instituto Cajal in Madrid. Upon its completion in 1922, Ramón y Cajal resigned his position at the University of Madrid to continue his work at the Instituto until his death on 18 October 1934.

Major Works

Containing 1,800 pages and 887 original illustrations, Textura del sistema nervioso...

(The entire section is 869 words.)