Crystallography in Spain - History

As the host of important mining ore deposits, Spain has been linked to crystals since remote times. It might be that the first Spanish contribution to the history of crystallography was reported by Pliny the elder in his renowned Natural History: The windows and greenhouses of the richer inhabitants of the Roman Empire were covered by crystals of “Lapis specularis”, the Latin name for large transparent crystals of gypsum, the dihydrated form of calcium sulphate, which were extracted by Romans in Segobriga (La Mancha) because of their crystal clarity, size (up to one meter) and perfect flatness.

Centuries later, (fifteen century) there are several examples showing the interest in bidimensional structures and symmetry, in the ceiling of the main rooms of Castles, Palaces and special buildings like the University of Alcala or the Segovia’s Castle, close to Madrid.

The huge mineralogical information contained in the Plinio’s Natural History was preserved and enhanced in the Book XVI on stones and metals of the Etymologiarum of Isidor of Seville (560-636) as well as in the Lapidarium of Alfonso X (1221-1284), an fascinating work of a group Muslims, Hebrew and Christian sages in a time when peaceful multicultural collaboration was demonstrated to be possible. Nevertheless, it was the unparalleled talent of the Arabian geometers to investigate the problem of tessellation of the two-dimensional space, which made the most important Spanish contribution to crystallography and geometrical art before the renaissance. The decorative symmetry of tiling in the Alhambra Palace in Granada is today used to teach symmetry all over the world.

The variety of Spanish mining and the enormous richness of the American ores motivated the work of excellent metallurgists and mineralogists as Juan de Arfe Villafañe, Diego de Santiago and Alonso Barba, the author of "Arte de los metales” who developed the method to recover silver and gold by using the mercury of Almaden (La Mancha), the largest mercury mine in the world. In addition, America and the far East provided stunning and fascinating mineral samples for collectors and scientists of the New World. The Spanish Royal Cabinet of Natural History was created in 1776 upon the collection of minerals of Pedro F. Davila, may be the best at that time, which was used by Rome de L’Ile during his studies on crystal morphology.

In 1799, came to the print the Anales de Historia Natural, the first periodical journal, where Proust, Herrgen, Del Rio, Humbolt and other mineralogists, educated in the Wernerian School of Freiburg, published their first articles on the nature of the crystals. The controversy between the Werner’s ideas on the classification of minerals based on external properties and the new concept introduced by Rome de L’Ile and the abate Haüy on crystal morphology is clearly observed in the Anales of Natural History, which demonstrate how much Spanish science was aware of the crucial changes operating in mineralogy during XVIII and XIX century.

A collection of crystallographic solids gifted by Haüy to the Galician mathematician José Rodriguez y Gonzalez was fully used by the crystallographers Gonzalez de Linares and Laureano Calderón, who were also related to the establishment of what was probably the first (1888) Chair of Crystallography in European Universities.

At the beginning of the XX century, the Spanish crystallographers were also aware of the international advances in this field. For instance, Pardillo realised the importance of the Laue and Bragg investigations performed just one year before and the same year, respectively, and he reported these studies in 1913 to the Boletin de la Real Sociedad Española de Historia Natural. Two years later, Blas Cabrera –who later becomes director of the Instituto Nacional de Física y Química- also wrote a report on the novel application of X-rays to determine the structure of materials in the Anales de la Sociedad Española de Física y Química.

Martin Cardoso in the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales in Madrid, Julio Palacios at the Instituto Nacional de Física y Química and Francisco Pardillo at the Mineralogy Department of the University of Barcelona set the first Spanish groups of modern Crystallography. Luis Rivoir and others worked with Palacios on structure determinations of inorganic and organic crystals and on the perfection of the Fourier methods of analysis, while F. Pardillo created independently a crystallography school in the department of Mineralogy of the University in Barcelona. Martin Cardoso taught Julio Garrido who later moved to the Palacios group.

The impetus of young Spanish crystallographers managed to create the basements of the currently Spanish Crystallography. Among them, Luis Bru pushed X-ray and electron microscopy in Canary Islands, later since 1949 in Sevilla and finally since 1956 in the University of Madrid; Luis Rivoir heads the X-ray department in the Instituto de Fisica ‘Alonso de Santa Cruz’ (formerly the Instituto Nacional de Fisica y Quimica) and José Luis Amorós in Barcelona, from 1942 at the Instituto Lucas Mallada (CSIC) and later at the University of Madrid set a group of young crystallographers and crystal growers.

When Acta Crystallographica appeared in 1948, the first article published in it that was signed by Julio Garrido from the CSIC “Observations sur la diffusion des rayons X par les cristaux de ClO3Na” (Acta. Cryst. 1948, 1, 3). Besides, in that first issue appeared a note of Julio Garrido about the carnitine structure, as well as a review of the book of J. Garrido and J. Orland “Los rayos X y la estructura fina de los cristales: Fundamentos teóricos y Métodos prácticos” (1946). In 1949, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC, the Nacional Research Council) founded the National Crystallographic Committee and it joins the International Union of Crystallography created just two years before in 1947.

In 1950, the Spanish Association of Crystallography (ACE) is founded and its first meeting was held in Barcelona. The first board of governors of the ACE included Francisco Pardillo, L. Rivoir (director of the Instituto de Fisica Alonso de Santa Cruz, formerly Instituto Nacional de Física y Química), Prof. G. Martin Cardoso (National Museum of Natural Sciences), M. Abad and J. L. Amorós. In 1960, the Ibero-American Association for Crystallography was founded. In that first meeting the Asociación Cristalográfica Española had 35 members. Only a couple of X-ray diffraction machines for Jong-Bowan and Weissenberg methods were available then along with simple calculation machines.

Today, the situation is completely different. The Spanish Group of Crystallography (GEC) allocates 200 members, but taking into account other crystallographers joined to other associations like Crystal Growth, Neutron Users, Solid State, Proteomics, Surfaces, etc., we can consider about 400 Spanish researches really involved in the crystallographic advances.

Those Spanish researches are grouped in well established teams of crystallographers, who are distributed all around the Spanish geography. Thus, there are groups in the Canary islands, in Andalusia, Valencia, Asturias, Catalonia, Galicia, Basque Country and of course, in Madrid.

We wish to remark the important contribution of the crystallographers of the Instituto Rocasolano of the CSIC in Madrid, which, in the 70’s, gave support to all Spanish colleagues, collecting data, creating and maintaining the first software collections in Spain (installed in the main-frame UNIVAC 1008 of the Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia), and making an impulse to reach an agreement with the CCDC and the CSIC for distribution of this crystallographic database around the whole Spanish country. The same persons made it possible the accessibility of this CCDC database for Latin America facilitated by the generosity of the CCDC and the CSIC.

Crystallography in Spain Nowadays

Nowadays Spanish crystallographers share up to 260 X-ray diffraction machines, both powder and single crystals diffractometers. We have an active participation in neutron diffraction and synchrotron X-ray diffraction in different European facilities; we run two Spanish instruments at the ILL: D1B and D15, and two beamlines at ERSF: BM16 and Spline. The Spanish synchrotron ALBA is being built in Barcelona and it will be active by 2010 with several crystallographic beamlines. Electron microscopy is also well represented, from high resolution transmission electron microscopy to field emission electron scanning microscopy.

Spanish crystallographers have organized several International Seminars, workshops, Conferences and Meetings, as the ECM-6 in Barcelona in 1980, and they held a yearly Congress, but until now we have not organized any General Assembly and Congress of the International Union of Crystallography. We are ready to do our best to offer an excellent organization of the XXII Conference of the International Union of Crystallography in Madrid and able to make Madrid 2011, near one hundred years since the Laue and Braggs experiments, an memorable event from the scientific and the social perspectives.


Organic and Inorganic Crystals


Small Molecules, Inorganic Solids, Macromolecules and Computing


Modulate and Incommensurable structures
Inorganic crystals
Magnetic structures


Macromolecules, small molecules and new materials, powder diffraction, polymorphis, computing.


Macromolecules, small molecules, new materials and powder diffraction.


Crystal growth, powder diffraction and small molecules.


Crystal of natural products, new materials, magnetic structures.


Small molecules, new materials, EXAFS.


Macromolecules, small molecules, new materials, crystal growth surfaces and computing.

ILL (Grenoble, France)

Dwo instruments:
D1B powder diffraction, D15 single crystall diffraction.

ESRF (Grenoble, France)

Dwo lines:
BM16 macromolecules
BM25 multidisciplinary line: two branches
---A branch: powder diffraction and EXAFS.
---B branch: single crystal and sufraces.


In construction close to Barcelona. 2010.

Enrique Gutiérrez Puebla
Juan Manuel García Ruiz
Pilar Gómez Sal
Angeles Monge
Santiago García Granda
Martín Martinez Ripoll
Promoters of the Organization of the XXII IUCr Congress Madrid 2011.

Carlos Miravitlles
President of the Spanish Committee.