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Women in Optics: María Josefa Yzuel

In this blog, Andover Corporation continues its celebration of women pioneers in optics by turning the spotlight on María Josefa Yzuel. A renowned Spanish scientist, she has been a pioneer in both research and teaching. Dr. Yzuel is a respected leader and role model in the international optics society and a longstanding advocate for the promotion of women in STEM disciplines.


Yzuel was born in 1940 and raised in Jaca, Spain. It was her dream to attend college at a time when Spanish society frowned on women pursuing higher education. However, with her parents support she earned a bachelor's degree in physical sciences from the University of Zaragoza in 1962. She remained there for her doctorate studies, earning her PhD in 1966.

In 1971 she was the first woman to obtain the position of Associate Professor of Physics at the University of Zaragoza. She left in 1982, to join the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she became a full professor.

In 2011, she retired from full-time work at Barcelona, but retained her association as an emeritus professor and serves on the International Scientific Council of the South Ural State University.


In addition to having a distinguished academic career, Dr. Yzuel has had a significant impact on a broad range of optical subjects, including polarization, optical systems, and optical information processing. In the areas of medical and diagnostic imaging, her research has led to advancements in the utilization of spatial light modulators as diffractive optical components.

At the Autonomous University of Barcelona, she actively carried out both teaching and research tasks, while participating in multiple professional societies. Over her career, her research has touched almost every area in the field of optics. She is known internationally for her more than 250 scientific publications, cooperation with universities in many countries, and her participation in 37 national and international research projects - several of which she has led.

The bulk of her research focused on non-uniform and phase transmission filters to improve the quality of optical image-forming systems, the introduction of color information in the process of optical shape recognition and the use and characterization of liquid crystal screens for the generation of diffractive optical elements.

When asked what she finds most exciting about her work, she responded, “I find the combination of research and teaching offered by a university position to be extremely rewarding. I particularly enjoy training young researchers in optics and supervising their PhD theses. When asked what inspired her career choice, she explained, “I studied physics because of its deep mathematical background and its ability to explain the phenomena of nature. What I like most about optics is the impact it has on other sciences - recent advances in optical instruments and techniques have led to tremendous growth in numerous scientific disciplines.” María Yzuel is not just a professor and researcher, but a mentor supporting and encouraging the next generation of scientists.

Advancing Women

María has held key positions in national and international societies all her life. Through her entire career, she expressed her belief in how much women can and should contribute to science. And she followed through on her ideas, being a founding member of the Specialized Group of Women in Physics, SPIE Women in Optics, and the Women in Physics section of the Royal Spanish Society of Physics.

María’s lifelong dedication to diversity in physics is quite astounding. These noteworthy awards and accomplishments are as follows:

  • 1993-1996 She served as the first female president of the Spanish Optical Society
  • 1996-1998 The first Spanish scientists to serve as secretary general of the European Optical Society
  • 2005 SPIE Director's Award
  • 2005 University of Warsaw Medal
  • 2009 President of SPIE
  • 2011 received the UAB Award in favor of women’s rights
  • 2012 Miguel Hernández University of Elche Honorary Doctorate
  • 2013 Civil Order of Alfonso X, the Wise
  • 2014 Medal of the Royal Spanish Society of Physics
  • 2015 President of the Spanish Committee for the celebration of the International Year of Light
  • 2017 University of Alicante Gender Equality Award
  • 2017 University of Granada Honorary Doctorate 
  • 2021 SPIE President's Award

The optical breakthroughs made by María Josefa Yzuel are important foundational elements for today’s optical research. She is a courageous and ambitious woman who chased her aspirations and achieved great success. She is acknowledged as a pioneer in optics and a role model for women interested in science and academia.



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