Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona

2022 Honorary Mention

Communication NAT Award Nat Award 2022 2022 Honorary Mention

Jordi Sabater i Pi

1922-2009, Barcelona

The Museum wanted to take advantage of the celebration of the centenary of the birth of Professor Jordi Sabater i Pi to acknowledge the contribution this great naturalist made in the fields of ethology, primatology and human evolution as well as ethnology and zoology.

Due to the consequences of the Spanish Civil War, when he was only 17 years old, Jordi Sabater i Pi emigrated to the colonial territories of the former Spanish Guinea (Equatorial Guinea) where he lived for almost 30 years. He worked as a foreman on a cocoa and coffee plantation and devoted the little free time he had to observing and drawing everything that surrounded him.  He explored the jungle, studied the language and cultural universe of the Fang people (the largest ethnic group in this country), something that was very uncommon among local settlers.

In the 1950s, his naturalist and research work took on a more professional character.  Well-known ornithologists, primatologists and zoologists took notice of this person who lived in the middle of nature. They directed him to towards fieldwork, in particular the study of western lowland gorillas in their habitat, which no one had studied before.  In 1958, he published the first article on western lowland gorilla behaviour in a German journal, and in parallel with this he began studying chimpanzees in their habitat. That same year, Sabater i Pi left the plantation and was appointed director of the Ikunde Animal Adaptation and Experimentation Centre, which was dependent on Barcelona City Council.

In 1966, Sabater i Pi rescued an albino gorilla: Nfumu Ngi. The small captive primate had been exhibited as a rarity and was very ill. Thanks to the care provided by Núria Coca, Sabater i Pi’s wife and great fellow adventurer, and their sons Oriol and Francesc, the gorilla was able to recover. Finally, Nfumu Ngi arrived at Barcelona Zoo where he was named Snowflake (Floquet de Neu in Catalan). But this was just an anecdote in Jordi Sabater i Pi’s life; he made his great scientific discovery in 1967 when he observed that chimpanzees were able to use and make tools.  Independently, Jane Goodall had observed the same thing in East Africa. The results were published in the journal Nature. This was a revolution in the field of science, because it had always been said that the separation between humans and animals lay in the use and manufacture of tools.

However, Sabater i Pi went much further and stated that, in addition to human cultures, there were animal cultures. Although these ideas won him international acclaim—for example in the  USA and Japan—they were greatly misunderstood and rejected in this country. The independence process in Spanish Guinea forced him to return to Barcelona in 1969. Here, he combined his new job as curator of Primates and the Terrarium at Barcelona Zoo with studies at the University of Barcelona because, although he was one of the world’s leading specialists in primatology, he did not have a university degree.  When he graduated (1976), he found his own platform at the Faculty of Psychology at the University of Barcelona where he introduced a very young science:  ethology and, in particular, ethoprimatology.

Jordi Sabater i Pi never stopped researching and disseminating; he published numerous high-impact articles, trained many primatologists, and was the author of reference books. He visited Africa again to work with mountain gorillas in Rwanda and bonobos in the Democratic Republic of Congo and received countless international and national prizes and recognition.


Alícia Masriera

1940, Barcelona

She was pioneering both as a woman and as a geologist, as director of the Geology Museum (former Martorell Museum), a position she held for 20 years with enthusiasm, generosity, few resources and the ability to build a team with the limited staff available to her.  From this position, she took on the challenge of managing and maintaining the Museum’s collection and making them known to society from scientific, historical, heritage and cultural perspectives.

Since she was very young, Alícia Masriera had had a passion for geology.  She practised scientific and sports hiking, climbing and also geoespeleology, a discipline in which she was a pioneer.  When it came to choosing her profession, she had few doubts. She obtained a PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Barcelona and a Diploma of Advanced Studies (Diplôme d’Études Approfondies, DEA) in Sedimentology from the Orsay Faculty of Sciences (Paris-Saclay University[EP|AA1] ).  From 1968 to 1973, she participated in several scientific expeditions: to North Africa, Turkey, Lapland and Peru (Amazonia and the Andes).

In 1969, she won a place as technical curator at the Municipal Museum of Geology, a job she combined until 1977 with teaching Sedimentary Petrology at the University of Barcelona.  In 1985, she became the director of the Museum, a position she held exclusively until she retired in 2005.

As far as scientific dissemination is concerned, she organised dozens of temporary exhibitions including Les Roques de la Sagrada Família [The Rocks of the Sagrada Família] devoted to providing a petrographic view of different architectural and ornamental elements of Gaudí’s church or El Museu Martorell, 125 anys de Ciències Naturals [The Martorell Museum, 125 Years of Natural Sciences], which gave rise to a book that is essential for understanding the history of this institution. It is also worth mentioning her perseverance in getting the City Council to publish the journal Treballs del Museu de Geologia de Barcelona [Works of the Barcelona Geology Museum], a communication tool for national and international researchers, which she directed from 1990 to 2007.

As collection manager, Alícia Masriera managed to include several important collections: the Cervelló Mineral Collection and the Madern Collection of Paleoflora from the Oligocene. She promoted the thin-film laboratory and facilitated the carrying out of documentation and research on the geological heritage (rocks, minerals and fossils) conserved at the Museum.

Alongside her work at the Museum, and generally outside of working hours, she devoted herself to her scientific vocation. Along with her husband and partner, Joan Ullastre, she carried out intensive fieldwork for 27 years, focusing on gaining a better geological knowledge of the Mesozoic and Tertiary terrain in the Catalan and Aragonese Pyrenees.   The results of this research created a solid basis for providing a more realistic view of the geodynamic evolution of these lands, far removed from the theoretical models prevailing at that time, and which attracted the attention of important international specialists.

Today, the Museum that Alícia Masriera directed is undergoing a transformation. However, the work she carried out for 35 years with love, dedication, rigour and perseverance remains and forms an important part of the history of the Museum of Natural Sciences of Barcelona.