SANTIAGO RAMÓN Y CAJAL (1852 – 1934)
If you’re anything like me, the name Ramón y Cajal will be familiar because it’s one of the most common street names in Spain, after “Calle Mayor”. In fact, Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a pioneer microbiologist who won the Nobel Prize for medicine.
Santiago was the son of an eminent surgeon in the region of Aragón. As a child he was extremely badly behaved and was always getting into trouble. He was a dreadful student who detested the rote-learning of his school years and constantly rebelled against authority. His one great talent was drawing. In an attempt to calm him down his father decided to apprentice him to a cobbler. However, he subsequently attended medical school in Zaragoza and qualified at the age of 21.
Santiago joined the army as a medical officer and was sent to the Spanish colony of Cuba, where he contracted tuberculosis and malaria. On his return to Spain and eventual recovery, he completed his doctorate studies at the age of 25.
This marked the beginning of an illustrious career as a medical investigator of international importance. His most important work came to fruition in 1888 when he discovered the mechanisms that govern the connective processes of the nerve cells in the brain and spinal nervous system. His texts and drawings are still used for medical students to this day.
In 1906 Santiago won the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. The story goes that he was woken up one morning and shown a telegram from Sweden giving him the news. He commented “This is a joke of the students” and calmly went back to sleep, only realizing the truth when he later read it in the newspaper.
So now you know why so many streets are called Ramón y Cajal. He was a very important man indeed.