Today, February 11, is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, and here at the Center we’d like to celebrate the pioneering career of Basque physicist and meteorologist Felisa Martín Bravo (1898-1974).
Born in Donostia-San Sebastián in 1898, she graduated high school in her home city and then completed a bachelor’s degree in physical science at the University of Madrid, graduating in 1922. She remained in Madrid to study for her doctorate while working in a research group led by Julio Palacios. Here, applying the Bragg and Debye–Scherrer methods, she established the crystal structure of nickel and cobalt oxides as well as lead sulfide by means of x-rays.
She completed her dissertation in 1926, and later traveled to the United States to teach both Spanish and physics at Connecticut College in New London, CT. While in the US, she also took time out to visit various research labs at Harvard and Yale. After returning to Madrid, she also began work as an assistant at the Spanish Meteorological Office. In 1932, she went to the University of Cambridge where, besides attending classes by the renowned physicist Ernest Rutherford, she also improved her knowledge of the atmospheric sciences thanks to the classes of C.T.R. Wilson. She returned to her job at the Meteorological Office in 1934 but when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, her life, like those of so many others changed dramatically.
The main Meteorological Office was moved to Valencia, under control of the pro-Franco forces, but she decided to remain loyal to the Second Republic and remain in Madrid. In doing so, she lost her job. But in the chaos of the war, it transpired that a director was needed for the Igeldo Meteorological Observatory, just outside Donostia-San Sebastián, and she came to occupy that post between 1937 and 1940. Thereafter, she returned to Madrid and was able, finally and overcoming innumerable hurdles put in her place by the new Franco regime (including an inquiry into how “clean” she was of undesirable political sympathies), to resume a position in the Meteorological Office where she became a fully accredited meteorologist and researched atmospheric electricity.
Little is know of her life after retirement. She died in Mexico in 1974.
Information sourced in Uxune Martinez, “Igeldoko Behatokiko meteorologoa: Felisa Martin (1898-1974),” Zientzia Kaiera (September 19, 2014).