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Free radicals in the European periphery: ‘translating’ organic chemistry from Zurich to Barcelona in the early twentieth century


In 1915, after acquiring first-hand knowledge of the new free radical chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Antonio García Banús (1888–1955) became professor of organic chemistry at the University of Barcelona and created his own research group, which was to last from 1915 until 1936. He was a gifted teacher and a prolific writer who attempted to introduce international scientific standards into his local environment. This paper analyses the bridges that Banús built between the experimental culture of organic chemistry at the ETH and the University of Barcelona. It presents a case study which aims to provide new historical data for the general analysis of groups who conducted their work in the European periphery.

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I would like to thank Nuria Alomar, Antonio García Banús's granddaughter, for her great help and for providing access to her family papers. My thanks to her sister, Mercedes, for encouraging me to embark on this research. I am also indebted to Josep Casals (Arxiu Històric de la Universitat de Barcelona (AHUB)) for his generous help in the search for Banús's primary sources, and to Joan Juli Bonet (IRTA, Generalitat de Catalunya), one of my organic chemistry lecturers, who made me aware of the importance of Banús's work. I also thank Jaime Pastor (UNED, Madrid) for providing me with data on Banús's family, and Antoni Roca-Rosell and María Jesús Santesmases for their comments on some earlier versions of this manuscript. On Banús's teaching skills and leadership, the personal interview with Manuel Tremoleda, one of his laboratory assistants in the 1930s, was extremely valuable. I am very grateful to Mr Tremoleda and his wife for their accounts of Banús's activities in the science faculty. I am indebted to Erwin Levold (Rockefeller Archive Centre) for kindly providing me with copies of the IEB reports on Spanish laboratories. I have presented draft parts of this paper in Aegina (Greece), June 2002, ILAB, Third STEP meeting, ‘Textbooks in the periphery’ ( and in Barcelona, VII Trobada d'Història de la Ciència i de la Tècnica, Institut d'Estudis Catalans, November 2002.
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The British Journal for the History of Science
  • ISSN: 0007-0874
  • EISSN: 1474-001X
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-for-the-history-of-science
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