Jorge Wagensberg died on Saturday 3 March 2018 in Barcelona at the age of 69. Not only the scientific community, but the whole city of Barcelona mourns the loss of this great scientist, Physics professor, humanist, poet, author of fundamental books, creator of the new CosmoCaixa in Barcelona, director of Hermitage Barcelona until his death, great friend of ICMAB's people, and much more.
Many ICMAB researchers had studied and worked with him at the Universitat de Barcelona (UB). Wagensberg, who obtained his PhD in 1976, spent some years at the "Fundamental Physics Department" at UB and taught "Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes" to the Physics Degree students. He always told them that "death is the last irreversible process that one can experience", says Prof. Josep Fontcuberta. And so it is.
Prof. Josep Fontcuberta, now researcher at the MULFOX group at ICMAB met Wagensberg during that time when both of them were teaching at the UB. "He never followed the protocols. He was not a conventional man and had very original thoughts. He was a person "out of the system", a man of the Renaissance, with a large culture, capable of talking about many things in a very exciting way", he admits.
Fontcuberta says that one of Wagensberg's greatest books, which everyone should read, is "If Nature is the answer, what was the question?" (Si la natura és la resposta, quina era la pregunta?), a fantastic, surprising and stimulating collection of aphorisms for curious minds. Fontcuberta affirms that in this book one can find the answer to multiple questions, including THE QUESTION: "Which came first: the chicken or the egg?". Wagensberg manages to answer this and many other questions in the most exquisite way to condense an idea in a single phrase: with an aphorism.
Wagensberg was an expert in aphorisms, in synthesizing complex ideas in one single, well-thought and appropriate phrase. In fact, Wagensberg affirmed that he did "not trust any idea that cannot be expressed intelligibly in a single phrase." And this is only possible after a complete understanding of the subject. Not everyone is capable of it. Wagensberg was.
Prof. Xavier Obradors, ICMAB Director, was also a colleague of Wagensberg at the UB, together with Prof. Elies Molins and Prof. Benjamin Martínez, all of them researchers at the Institute. He explains that once he left the "Fundamental Physics Department" at the UB, he became Director of the incredible CosmoCaixa (1991-2005), which he conceived as a modern and intreactive museum, and that he took people from the UB with him, such as Anna Sanahuja, who later became Director of CosmoCaixa, right after Wagensberg, and before the current Director, Lluís Noguera. "Wagensberg could not remain at the University, he had many ideas beyond the University, involving bringing science to the general public".
One thing that not many people might know is that during the time at the UB, Wagensberg liked to draw caricatures of people, including of his colleagues at the UB. Fontcuberta mentions that his office was full of caricatures hanging from the wall. We do not know if he continued this hobby afterwards or not, but it would be great to take a look a them!
We are very lucky to have met Wagensberg, to have spent time with him, and learnt from him. As a city, we are very lucky to have the CosmoCaixa, a new concept of science museum, with us. And we are very lucky to have his books, more than 30, to read. Also, not to forget the collection "Metatemas" from Tusquets Editions, which Wagensberg directed, and in which we have the opportunity to read Richard Feynman, Lynn Margulis, Albert Einstein, Martin Gardner, and many other authors, including Wagensberg himself. A not to be missed collection of fundamental books. He also used to write a column in the Mètode magazine; here you can read them all, the last one being "Can a machine think?".
Wagensberg, always interested in museography and science outreach, but also in the fusion between art and science, was also director of ECSITE (European Collaborative for Science & Technology), a network of European of science museums and research centers, between 1993 and 1995, was founding member of the EMA (European Museum Academy) since 2010, and was director of the already well-known (but not opened) Hermitage Barcelona since 2013 "a place where art and science merge".
We'll miss you greatly, Jorge!
Photo: Jorge Wagensberg, at his home in 2015 (Ana Jiménez/Archive)