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Angeles Alvariño: 1916—: Marine Biologist, Oceanographer - Dreamed Of Becoming A Doctor

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As an undergraduate Alvariño attended the Lycee Concepcion Arenal in El Ferrol. There she studied the natural sciences, physics, chemistry, and mathematics, as well as languages, world literature, history, geography, philosophy, psychology, logic, and art history. In 1933 Alvariño received her baccalaureate degree, summa cum laude, from the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, after passing her final examinations and submitting dissertations in both sciences and letters—on social insects, bees, and ants, and on the women in Don Quixote.

Although her ambition to study medicine remained strong, Alvariño's father continued to object. Therefore she entered the University of Madrid (now University Complutense) in 1934 to study the natural sciences, a curriculum that shared several subjects with the medical course. However, the university closed in 1936 and remained closed for the duration of the Spanish Civil War. During this period Alvariño improved her French and began studying English. When the university reopened in 1939, she resumed her studies, earning a master's degree with honors in natural sciences in 1941. During her years at the University of Madrid, Alvariño lived in the Women's Residence of University Students, under the directorship of Dr. Maria de Maeztu. There she immersed herself in an international intellectual environment that included students from around the world who had come to study Spanish art and literature. In 1940 Alvariño married Sir Eugenio Leira Manso, an officer in the Royal Navy of Spain and a Knight of the Royal and Military Order of Saint Hermenegild.

At a Glance . . .


Born Angeles Alvariño on October 3, 1916, in El Ferrol, Spain; daughter of Antonio Alvariño Grimaldos and Maria del Carmen Gonzáles DíazSaavedra de Alvariño; married Sir Eugenio Leira Manso, 1940; children: Angeles Leira Alvariño. Education: University of Santiago de Compostela (Spain), baccalaureate degree, 1933; University of Madrid (now University Complutense), MS, 1941, doctoral certificate, 1951, DSc, 1967.


Career: El Ferrol (Spain), instructor, biology, zoology, botany, geology, 1941-48; Department of Sea Fisheries (Spain), fishery research biologist, 1948-52; Superior Council of Scientific Research, histologist, 1948-52; Spanish Institute of Oceanography, biologist-oceanographer, 1952-57; Marine Biological Laboratory, Plymouth, England, British Council fellow, 1953-54; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Fulbright fellow, 1956-57; Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, La Jolla, biologist, 1958-69; SWFSC, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA, fishery research biologist, 1970-87, emeritus scientist, 1987–; National Autonomous University of Mexico, associate professor, 1976; San Diego State University, associate professor, 1979-82; Federal University of Paraná (Brazil), visiting professor, 1982; University of San Diego, associate professor, 1982-84; National Polytechnic Institute of Mexico, visiting professor, 1982-86.


Memberships: Emeritus fellow, American Institute of Fishery Research Biologists; fellow, San Diego Society of Natural History; Association of Natural History Societies; Biological Society of Washington; Hispano-American Association of Researchers on Marine Sciences.


Awards: Great Silver Medal of Galicia, 1993.


After earning her degree Alvariño taught biology, zoology, botany, and geology at various colleges in El Ferrol until 1948, when she moved to Madrid with her husband and daughter. There she joined the Department of Sea Fisheries, as a fishery research biologist. Between 1948 and 1952 she also worked as a histolo-gist at the Superior Council of Scientific Research.

Alvariño wanted to continue her studies at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography in Madrid. However, women were officially barred from the institute because research in marine biology was conducted on vessels belonging to the Spanish Royal Navy and a law, dating back to Charles III, prohibited women from staying on navy ships. Nevertheless, based on her academic qualifications, Alvariño was admitted to the institute's courses in biological, physical, and chemical oceanography and she was allowed to begin conducting research there. Simultaneously pursuing her studies at the University of Madrid, Alvariño earned her doctoral certificate in chemistry in 1951 with three separate dissertations: a study of personality for a thesis in experimental psychology, a study of phosphates in the ocean for a chemistry thesis, and a study of the distribution, uses, and commerce of seaweeds for a plant ecology dissertation. In 1952, as a result of a competitive examination, Alvariño won an appointment as a biologist and oceanographer at the Spanish Institute of Oceanography. Since the institute was a part of the Spanish navy, Alvariño was given an honorary military rank of captain.


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