Dorotea Barnés González

* 1904 (Pamplona) 2003 Spain
Fields of activity: scientist, physicist and chemist, optician, education
Author: Sara Pascual Ruiz

Fields of influence

From the beginning, Dorotea stood out among the select group of women who started their research work in Spain at the end of the twenties. She made a huge effort to produce an excellent piece of research work and was a fine, although curtailed, example of a female scientist in the XX century, demonstrating that the capacity to conduct scientific research was not exclusive to men.

Despite her short trajectory, she stood out as a notable scientist in the field of “Raman spectroscopy”, named after C.V. Raman (1888-1970), the Nobel Laureate for Physics (1930) for his discovery of secondary radiation. This technique, which continues to be used today, enables the molecules of chemical species to be identified and can be applied to different problems of scientific, medical, pharmacological and industrial interest. Dorotea was a pioneer in the introduction of this technique to Spain.


In light of the recently announced Burrell Law in 1910, granting women free access to universities in Spain, and with the support of her father (subsequently minister of education in the Second Spanish Republic) and her mother, who both believed in equal opportunities, she and her three sisters studied at university. Dorotea studied chemistry and became known as one of the most advanced scientists in the field of spectroscopy applied to chemical analysis. Among other merits, she was one of the few women to receive a scholarship from Yale University, which at the time only accepted women with an exceptional academic record. Upon her return to Spain, after a period in Austria, she continued her research studies and obtained professorship in physics and chemistry in the Lope de Vega Institute in Madrid, where she remained until she decided to go into exile in Carcassonne once the Spanish Civil War had started. 


1904: She was born in Pamplona, in the north of Spain. She studied her secondary education in Ávila and then Chemical Science in the Complutense University of Madrid, obtaining high honours. While she was studying chemistry, she trained for several years in the Foster laboratory of the Ladies’ Residence University (Residencia de Señoritas).

1929: She travelled to the United States with a scholarship from the Board for Further Studies (Junta de Ampliación de Estudios, JAE), and stayed for a period in the Smith-College for women in Massachusetts, where she took her first steps in spectral analysis techniques. She carried out research work under the supervision of Mary L. Foster, founder of the laboratory bearing her name in Madrid, and Gladys Anslow, a doctor in physics by Yale University. 

1930-1931: She was awarded a “Marion Le Roy Burton” scholarship to work in the Chemistry Department of Yale University (Connecticut, USA), a university known at the time for not accepting female students.   

1931: When her scholarship came to an end she returned to Spain, where she began to work in the spectroscopy section of the National Institute of Physics and Chemistry. She also started working on the projects that would lead to her PhD thesis.

1932: She spent three months in Graz, Austria, at one of the pioneering laboratories specialising in the development of Raman spectroscopy. There she learned how to perfect this technique, which led her to publish the first Spanish study based on this technique.

1933: She defended her PhD thesis and was considered to be the best Spanish specialist in spectroscopy.

1934: She became a professor of physics and chemistry in the Lope de Vega Institute in Madrid, where she taught until the beginning of the Civil War.

1936: Her marriage and the outbreak of the Civil War ended her research career. Her father, then minister of education, convinced her to go into exile in Carcassonne with her family. She never returned to research.

Spanish science suffered an enormous setback with the outbreak of the Civil War, from which it would take years to recover, and, when it did it, it excluded women. With examples such as that of Dorotea Barnés, the new woman who had been a symbol of the Republic disappeared, since the new regime even deleted them from the files. The new woman faded into oblivion; the worst punishment of all.

Sources of information