Instituto de Óptica “Daza de Valdés”

Rise and decline of spanish optical instrument technology: the telescope of the daza de valdés optics institute (1940-1970)

Ciencias de la imagen-en, Divulgación

Madrid / January 12, 2024

A recent study published in the journal “Asclepio: Revista de Historia de la Medicina y de la Ciencia” analyzes the rise and decline of Spanish optical instrument technology through the case of the telescope of the Instituto de Óptica Daza de Valdés. The article, written by Sergio Barbero Briones of the Institute of Optics and Esteban Moreno Gómez of Scientific Culture and Citizen Science, both belonging to the CSIC, reveals the historical importance of this institution in the scientific-technological panorama of the early Franco regime.

During the 1940s and 1950s, the scientific-technological development of optical instruments in Spain experienced a significant flourishing. This growth was driven by the Optics Section of the Alonso de Santa Cruz Institute of Physics and, later, by the Daza de Valdés Institute of Optics, founded in 1946, both belonging to the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC). However, in the 1960s, there was a decline in the capabilities and potential acquired during the previous period.

The article focuses on the history of a Maksutov-type telescope, whose design and manufacture were carried out at the Instituto de Óptica. This telescope serves as a guiding thread to explain the rise and decline of instrumental optics in Spain from the 1940s to the 1970s. The analysis examines the internal factors, such as scientific and technological factors, as well as the external factors, such as political and economic conditioning factors, that determined this unique development.

Photograph of the telescope installed in the dome (1970s) / Photographic archive of the Institute of Optics.

One of the outstanding engineers in this context was José María Otero Navascués, who not only played a fundamental role in the beginning of nuclear energy in Spain, but also contributed significantly to optical engineering or applied optics. During the 1940s and 1950s, optics acquired unprecedented importance in Spain, as reflected in the significant proportion of articles on optics published in scientific journals of the time.

The Daza de Valdés Institute of Optics became a key institution for the development of optical engineering during the early Franco regime. Through the different sections and departments related to optical design, the Institute achieved important technical advances. The study highlights the development project of a Maksutov-type telescope, which lasted almost 25 years until its completion in 1970. This telescope is a paradigmatic example of the technical achievements made during that period.

In summary, the study provides a detailed overview of the rise and decline of Spanish optical instrument technology through the case of the telescope of the Instituto de Óptica Daza de Valdés. This historical analysis highlights the importance of instrumental optics in the scientific-technological landscape of the early Franco regime and highlights the internal and external factors that influenced its development.

Communication IO-CSIC

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