A Spanish chemist as role model for Christian woman scientists

Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri

On 16 July 1975, Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri died in Pamplona, Spain. She was born in 1916 and started to study Chemistry in 1933. One Sunday in 1944, while she attended Mass, she felt “touched by the grace of God”. She got to know St. Josemaría Escrivá, founder of Opus Dei, who taught her that Christ can be found in professional work and ordinary life. She joined Opus Dei a few months later, went to Mexico and Rome to help set up apostolic and educational initiatives and returned to Spain in 1958. She then worked on her PhD in Chemistry. She taught Chemistry in different high schools and institutions to advance professional formation in young professionals. She suffered from heart disease for many years, and died at the age of 58.

And on 18 May 2019, she was beatified in Madrid. Her life is a testimony that everybody, also ordinary lay people, are not only called to sanctity, but can also live up to this call. As Pope Francis wrote on this occasion: “Holiness means opening one’s heart to God and allowing Him to transform us with His love; it also means going out of ourselves so as to meet others where Jesus awaits us, to bring them a word of encouragement, a helping hand, a look of tenderness and consolation.”

Most female scientists have no straightforward career, and need a remarkable commitment to combine relationships, family and work in an integrated way. Guadalupe’s career path was no different:  In June 1933, she enrolled in chemical science and was just one of five women in a class of 70 students. During the Spanish Civil War, she had to move from Madrid to Valladolid and upon her return to Madrid, she started teaching Chemistry. While in Mexico, she enrolled in a PhD program but only back in Spain, she could focus on a research project and defend her thesis, and continue teaching.

In addition to the commitment to Science, her courage is another strong characteristic. During the Civil War, her father was taken prisoner and condemned to execution, she accompanied her brother, Eduardo, and their mother to bid a final farewell, just hours before his death. Her brother emphasized that it was Guadalupe who remained strong and calm when talking to her father and provide consolation to her family. 

A truly remarkable lady. Blessed Guadalupe Ortiz de Landazuri may help us to find and honor God and serve others in our scientific enterprises!

A detailed biography is here.

John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh: a Nobel prize, humility and faith


John William Strutt, 3rd Baron Rayleigh, OM, PC, PRS (12 November 1842 – 30 June 1919), was a British scientist who made extensive contributions to both theoretical and experimental physics. He spent all of his academic career at the University of Cambridge. Among many honours, he received the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physics “for his investigations of the densities of the most important gases and for his discovery of argon in connection with these studies.” He served as President of the Royal Society from 1905 to 1908 and as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1908 to 1919.

Rayleigh provided the first theoretical treatment of the elastic scattering of light by particles much smaller than the light’s wavelength, a phenomenon now known as “Rayleigh scattering”, which notably explains why the sky is blue – and why the moon is red during a lunar eclipse like the one we have seen on 22 January 2019.

Revd Professor David Wilkinson brought to us the following thoughts on BBC and later published on the Science and Belief blog:

“Most of the sunlight is blocked by the Earth but some of it is refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere and reaches the Moon. The red color is caused by so-called Rayleigh scattering of sunlight through the atmosphere, the same phenomenon that makes the sky blue.

This scattering is named after one of the great leaders of British experimental and theoretical physics, John William Strutt, Lord Rayleigh. He made contributions to understanding waves in solids, the flow and stability of fluids as well as optics and the theory of sound. His work in radiation was key in the birth of quantum theory. Alongside many other honours, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1904 ‘for his investigations of the densities of the most important gases and for his discovery of argon.’

Yet for all this, it was said of him that ‘no man ever showed less consciousness of (his own) great genius’. Part of this natural humility came from his Christian faith. When his Scientific Papers were published he prefaced them, against some opposition, with a quotation from the Psalms, ‘The Works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein’. He spoke also of his faith in Jesus Christ as looking ‘to a power beyond what we see’.

Rayleigh is one of many scientists contemporary with and after Darwin who challenge the widely accepted myth of the conflict in history of science and religious belief. He is also an example to me of humble leadership which can come from the recognition that the whole creation is gift and that there is a higher power. Perhaps in this way, the blood Moon might be a reminder to other leaders this week of such humility.

And by the way I was up at five to see the eclipse, and I can report in Newcastle it was cloudless and beautiful.” [1]

[1] David Wilkinson: Thought for the Day: Humility, Faith and the Super Blood Wolf Moon

Picture: George Reid, Portrait of John William Strutt. 3rd Baron Rayleigh (1842-1919), royalsociety.org

Maria Mitchell, the first American discovering a comet


Every formula which expresses a law of nature is a hymn of praise to God.

Maria Mitchell (August 1, 1818 – June 28, 1889) became the first American woman to discover a comet when she observed what became known as “Miss Mitchell’s Comet”. The first professional female astronomer in America, Mitchell was raised by Quaker parents who believed, contrary to the practice of the time, in giving girls the same quality of education as boys. She later adopted Unitarianism. Her father, a school principal, taught her the basics of astronomy and, at age 12, she helped him to calculate the moment of an annular eclipse.

In the autumn of 1847, her discovery of the comet — made her famous worldwide and she was awarded a gold medal prize for the discovery from King Frederick VII of Denmark. In 1865, she became a professor of astronomy at Vassar College and was named the Director of the Vassar Observatory.

Among her many honors, Mitchell became the first woman member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848 and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850. She also co-founded the American Association for the Advancement of Women. Today, her legacy lives on at the Maria Mitchell Observatory, named in her honor in Nantucket, Massachusetts.

The Maria Mitchell Observatory in Nantucket is named in her honor. The crater Mitchell on the Moon is named after her. In 1902, the Maria Mitchell Association was founded in her memory. 

Picture: Maria Mitchell, US astronomer and pioneer of women’s rights, from a portrait by H. Dassell, 1851


A Mighty Girl on fb
Day 13: Maria Mitchell (1818-1889) on the blog Women Who Have Made History

Roger Bacon: A Franciscan introducing the experimental method


roger bacon.jpg

On 11 June (?) 1292, Roger Bacon (1214–1292) died at Oxford, England.

He was a Franciscan monk who was one of the first to propose mathematics & experimentation as methods of science. Drawing on Latin translations of Aristotle and the writings Arab scientists, he described a repeating cycle of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, and verification. 

His interest in foreign languages and other philosophical traditions began as a student. Reading biblical manuscripts at Paris, he encountered discrepancies in the texts; thereafter, he endeavored to uncover their true meaning and assess their claims against the discoveries of the natural sciences. One biographer notes:

“He is never tired of pointing out the amount of injury done to the spread of knowledge, and to the Church in consequence of the utter neglect of these languages. He frequently reminds his readers that all science was originally revealed to the ancient Hebrews, from whom it descended to the Egyptians and the Greeks… ‘prima tradita est principaliter et complete in lingua Hebraea’ (Opus Tertium, x)… ‘Latini nullum textum composuerunt, scilicet, neque theologiae neque philosophiae… manifestum est necessarium fore Latinis, ut si volunt puro, et sano, et efficaci sapientiae liquore potari, quod in fonte Hebraici sermonis, et Graeci, et Arabici, tanquam in primitivis vasis, discant sapientiam exhaurire’ (Compendium Studii Philosophiae, vii.). He urges, therefore, the study of Hebrew and Greek, as being indispensable to the spread of true knowledge, to the preparation of accurate translations of the works of the ancients…”

Through the writings of Roger Bacon, the Church gave Europe the mindset needed to believe it could study and learn about the natural world through experimentation, rather than reason alone, utilized by the Ancient Greeks.

roger bacon 2

Source: Nolan, Edmond & S.A. Hirsch. The Greek Grammar of Roger Bacon and a Fragment of his Hebrew Grammar. (Cambridge, GB: The University Press, 1902), xv-xvi.
Image: https://crev.info/scientists/roger-bacon/

Pierre Duhem, an uneasy genius

Pierre Duhem

Pierre Maurice Duhem (9 June 1861 – 14 September 1916) was a physicist, epistemologist, and historian of science. He maintained that the history of science and ideas is important for a correct scientific epistemology. He contributed to a reexamination of the role Christian theology played in the formation of the Western scientific spirit, chiefly through his monumental work “Le système du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic” (10 volumes), whose publication was completed after his death. Duhem criticized the claims of the mechanist and materialist philosophies, stating that they operated on illegitimate extrapolations from results obtained in physics. He considered metaphysics the field of first principles and of the notions upon which physics is based, while leaving physics the full freedom to formulate its own models and delineations. His principal reflections on the relationships between physics and metaphysics are found in his work “La théorie physique, son objet et sa structure” (1906).

Stanley Jaki wished to increase our knowledge and appreciation for Pierre Duhem, writing the book Uneasy Genius: The Life And Work Of Pierre Duhem” (1984).

source: www.inters.org

Francesco Denza and the Carte du Ciel


On 07 June 1834, Francesco Denza (1834-1894) was born in Naples. He was a Barnabite priest, astronomer, and meteorologist who immersed himself in solar spectroscopy and founded what later became the Italian Meteorological Society. He renovated the observation deck of the Vatican Observatory, founded in 1888. Vatican staff members realized that participation in the program ‘to map the sky’ would immediately give their young observatory international recognition. Pope Leo XIII commissioned Father Francesco Denza and Father Giuseppe Lais to attend the Astrographic Congress and enroll the Vatican as one of the participating institutions in the international Carte du Ciel project which made a photographic map of the stars.

Augustin Louis Cauchy: I believe in the Deity of Christ


On 23 May 1857, the French mathematician Augustin Louis Cauchy (1789-1857) passed away in Sceaux, France. His research provided the foundation for the modern period of rigor in analysis. He was one of the first to state and prove theorems of calculus rigorously, rejecting the heuristic principle of the generality of algebra of earlier authors. He almost singlehandedly founded complex analysis and the study of permutation groups in abstract algebra. A profound mathematician, Cauchy had a great influence over his contemporaries and successors. His writings range widely in mathematics and mathematical physics.

The Catholic Encyclopedia (1908) notes: “Cauchy was an admirable type of the true Catholic savant. A great and indefatigable mathematician, he was at the same time a loyal and devoted son of the Church. He made public profession of his faith and found his greatest pleasure and recreation in works of zeal and charity.”

In his book “Considérations sur les ordres religieux, adressées aux amis des sciences” (1844), he said:

“I am a Christian, that is, I believe in the divinity of Christ, as did Tycho Brahe, Copernicus, Descartes, Newton, Fermat, Leibniz, Pascal, Grimaldi, Euler, Guldin; Boscovich, Gerdil, as did all the great astronomers, physicist and geometricians of past ages.”


Catholic Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03457a.htm

Quote translated from French in: Julio Antonio Gonzalo (2008). The Intelligible Universe: An Overview of the Last Thirteen Billion Years