Carles Miravitlles (1942–2023)

Xavier ObradorsElies Molins, Jordi RiusAnna May-Masnou
Carles Miravitlles at ICMAB.

We are deeply saddened to announce the death of our dear friend and colleague Professor Carles Miravitlles, founder of ICMAB in 1986 and director of the center for 21 years, from 1986 to 2008. Carles passed away on 16 April 2023, at the age of 80.

The legacy and memory left by Carles Miravitlles, who was born in Barcelona on 9 September 1942, is extraordinary, for both his human and his professional qualities. He was a key figure in the creation of the Institute of Materials Science of Barcelona of the Spanish National Research Council (ICMAB–CSIC) and in the promotion of research in Catalonia.

[Fig. 1]
From left: Enric Banda, Carles Solà and Carles Miravitlles.

Carles, a visionary man

Carles was a person who loved science, undoubtedly influenced by the figure of his father, Lluís Miravitlles Millé (Professor of Applied Geology at the University of Barcelona, UB, Spain). Carles received his PhD in pharmacy under the supervision of Manuel Font-Altaba (Professor of Crystallography of the UB) and undertook several stays in the Dpt. de Chimie-Physique et Crystallography of the University of Leuven (Belgium). There he came into contact with Dr Gabriel Germain, who, together with Professor Michael Woolfson and Dr Peter Main, was one of the leading scientists in direct methods, which were emerging as a powerful technique for solving crystal structures. In 1974, he was appointed as Scientific Researcher at the Institute of Earth Sciences ‘Jaume Almera’ (now GeoSciences Barcelona) of the CSIC and contributed decisively to the popularization of this methodology in Catalonia. During this time, his research interest focused on structural crystallography and X-ray diffraction, mainly on organic compounds of pharmacological interest. In 1980, he organized the European Crystallographic Meeting (ECM-6) in Barcelona. He became Full Professor of the CSIC in 1986 and, in the same year, was nominated Director of ICMAB.

Apart from his interest in scientific research, in the second half of the 1980s he combined a very successful vision and a great capacity for work to create and promote ICMAB at the forefront of materials science research. He was able to mobilize this emerging discipline, anticipating it within the CSIC, achieving the creation of four new Materials Science Institutes in Spain and later promoting the existence of a ‘National Materials Science Plan’. He was also very active in promoting the international collaboration of ICMAB with many research centers and institutions, mainly around Europe. The debt we owe him goes far beyond the ICMAB community and extends to this field’s scientific community.

[Fig. 2]
Inauguration of the ICMAB building in 1991.

On the other hand, Carles Miravitlles’ wisdom in promoting a new CSIC research center in the Bellaterra Campus of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) was the seed that later turned this campus into one of the largest research concentrations in southern Europe. Carles’ ability to attract diverse talent and to convince political and institutional leaders to launch large-scale operations was exceptional. And this is the legacy he has left to all of us at ICMAB: the passion for excellence, internationalization and scientific ambition that has led us to be recognized twice as Severo Ochoa Excellent Centre in the area of advanced functional materials.

[Fig. 3]
From left: Jaume Casabó, Carles Miravitlles and Andreu Mas-Colell.

Carles Miravitlles not only contributed to building the basic skeleton of the ICMAB, he was also determinant in other areas of management of the CSIC and his beloved Catalonia: first, as CSIC Delegate in Catalonia (from 1987 to 1992), where he was able to promote institutional relationships with the Generalitat de Catalunya; and later, by encouraging the CSIC to create a new research center in Nanoscience and Nanotechnology that eventually became the current Catalan Institute of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology (ICN2). He also managed to collaborate with companies with the capacity to carry out research on the campus, creating the MATGAS Economic Interest Group, with the participation of the company Carburos Metálicos (now, part of Air Products), the CSIC and the UAB. Once released from the direction of ICMAB, he agreed to become the Director of the ‘Eduardo Torroja’ Institute in Madrid (2008–2009) to modernize and reorganize the center. Finally, Carles Miravitlles returned to ICMAB, and until a few months before his death, he was still regularly coming to the Institute.

In addition to these positions at CSIC, Carles Miravitlles was president of the Spanish Committee of Crystallography and, since 1993, a full member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences of Barcelona, of which he was also Vice Secretary. He was a member of the Chemistry Section of the European Academy, President of the Expominer Fair, and an academician of the Royal Academy of Pharmacy of Catalonia since 2016. In 1992 he received the Narcís Monturiol Medal in scientific merit from the Generalitat de Catalunya, for his dedication to the study of new materials and for contributions to the field of crystallography.

[Fig. 4]
Crystallography research group at ICMAB in 2012: (bottom, left to right): Oriol Vallcorba, Joan Esquiu and Xavier Campos; (top, left to right): Anna Crespi, Noelia García, Joana Martínez, Elies Molins, Muling Zeng, Ignasi Mata, Carles Miravitlles, Anna Laromaine, Jordi Rius, Anna Roig, Cosmin Cotet, Marta Vendrell and Xavier Torrelles.

Carles Miravitlles’ human qualities and bonhomie were hallmarks that accompanied him throughout his life and were recognized by everyone. He distinguished himself by being very positive, being kind to everyone, whether they shared his opinion or not, and always keeping a certain degree of irony and sarcasm about the research and administration management structures, both state and autonomous. His mastery of human relations at all levels and of political structures made him an undisputed leader among research managers.

To preserve his memory, the conference room of the ICMAB has been named after him.

[Fig. 5]
ICMABers, when Carles Miravitlles was director of the center.

What they say about Carles ...

"Carles is the person who has most influenced my scientific and professional career. He first encouraged me to move to ICMAB in 1989 when I was a young Full Professor at the Faculty of Physics of the University of Barcelona. His support and that of the president of the International Scientific Committee, Prof. Manuel Cardona, were decisive in creating a powerful research team in Magnetism and Superconductivity. Later, in 2002, he proposed me to be the deputy director of ICMAB and, finally, the 2008 director. I always thanked him for his trust in me and for the unconditional support, help and expertise I received from him when I took on the tasks of directing the center". Xavier Obradors, director of the ICMAB between 2008 and 2023.

"Carles Miravitlles brought the Institute into being; we already know that he made a very wise choice of researchers from the beginning and guided the expansion of the Institute throughout the 21 years that he was its director. His dynamism, intelligence, and creativity allowed ICMAB to grow both in size and quality. His mark was indelible, and those of us who have been able to interact with him know what a great loss his passing means. In the broadest sense, he had a significant influence on research in Catalonia and Spain. He will be greatly missed”. David Amabilino, current director of ICMAB.

"Carles was a nice person. He was generous, honest, respectful, funny and creative (his head was buzzing with ideas) but at the same time, like a good scientist, he was rational, that is, sensitive to arguments. I guess that's why we never argued once in over 40 years. He also had a remarkable global and future vision. At the beginning of my research career I had him by my side and later on when I needed him he always helped me. He was also a person who knew how to listen and give advice, something that was very useful to him, later, during his more than twenty years as Director of the Institute of Materials Science in Barcelona. I will miss you." Jordi Rius, Research Professor of ICMAB.

"Carles Miravitlles 'took me in' at ICMAB at a complicated time for me; it was 1992. This determined my professional career. From the beginning, we had a trusted relationship. Carles was an intuitive, social person; he had a visionary point of view and a humor that was not always politically correct. He was a tireless and tremendously restless worker with the ambition and obsession to make ICMAB a modern research center of reference. He used to head his e-mails with a 'benvolgut amic i company'". Anna Roig, Research Professor at ICMAB.

"Of Carles I can say that he had an advanced vision, both scientifically and technically. He had the virtue of knowing how to surround himself with good or very good people in his field. He had an idea of the future (I am talking about the late 80s) of ICMAB of scientific and technical excellence, and obviously also in the field of computer science. For example, by making proposals ahead of his time, such as the idea of making a kind of Virtual Institute (he said without walls), where you could work remotely securely as if everyone was in the same institution. At that time, talking about Virtual Private Networks was a very advanced idea, which led ICMAB to have a world-class Computer Network in the following years, being a computing reference, both at the CSIC and at the UAB campus". Joan Figuerola, Head of Computer Science Department at ICMAB for many years.

“All those who were lucky enough to know Carles recognize his affable and conciliatory nature. Everyone was happy when they found him. He always had some anecdote to tell or some news that no one else knew. His smile was encouraging and his story charmed you. In the CSIC he has been considered as the director of the Institute that all researchers would have liked to have. Tireless worker, rooted in his land, empathetic and generous. No sports lover, except for dominoes. Spartan in tastes, although a good gourmet. He left us just two days after losing his wife. He started by doing complicated crystallography calculations when there were no computers, and became an excellent promoter and manager of research and science, always looking for excellent researchers. We will remember him for his eternal affability, firm commitment to a job well done and knowing how to enjoy the little things. We will never be able to appreciate the great influence he had on the people with whom he came in contact. Sometimes exceptional people make this world a little better. Despite the moments of sadness, we will always be proud of having known him.” Elies Molins, Head of the Advanced Structural and Functional Crystallography Department of ICMAB and Co-president of the FMTS-WFSW.

[Fig. 6]
From left: Marta Vendrell, Joan Figuerola and Carles Miravitlles in December 2022 for the ICMAB Christmas party.


A shorter version of this obituary has been published in J. Appl. Cryst. (2023). 56, 1304–1305.

For a list of papers by Professor Miravitlles appearing in IUCr journals click here.

13 June 2023

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