Full house for the event held in tribute to Joan Guinovart


On Monday 22 October, the Dolors Aleu Hall registered a full house,  with more than 170 people gathering to celebrate the long and successful career of Joan J. Guinovart. Authorities, current and former members of the Board of Trustees, scientific collaborators, family members, representatives from philanthropic institutions, members of IRB Barcelona, and former students accompanied the founder and former director of the institute during 13 years on this special occasion. Indeed, due to interest in the event, it was retransmitted by video streaming in an annex hall. In total, more than 200 people rendered tribute to a life dedicated to biochemistry and science outreach.

At 18:00 and in front of a full audience, Francesc Posas, the current director of IRB Barcelona, took up his place as master of ceremonies. He thanked Guinovart for all that he had done for IRB Barcelona. "Joan is one of those people that transform ideas into reality.” One such idea was IRB Barcelona, which “came about thanks to Joan and now is one of the top research centres in Spain”, he said. “The institute is now entering a new phase. We have to go further and turn it into an international reference centre.”

Homenatge a Joan J. Guinovar

The next speaker was Joan Elias, rector of the University of Barcelona and vice-president of  IRB Barcelona’s Board of Trustees. Elias praised Guinovart’s professional career, a life devoted to biochemistry and, more specifically, to research into glycogen metabolism. Elias extolled his work as a PhD tutor and ended his speech on a positive note for the future: “The University of Barcelona is committed to IRB Barcelona and it will continue to support the institute.”

After Elias, it was the turn of Federico Mayor Zaragoza, President of the Fundació Cultura per la Pau. As an acclaimed biochemist, Mayor Zaragoza is an exceptional attester of Guinovart’s career. He highlighted Joan’s great capacity to promote scientific education at the Institute and his role as a science communicator. Guinovart’s contribution to shaping science policy was also acknowledged. In this context, Mayor Zaragoza commented on Guinovart’s achievement in transferring knowledge to society. “The wind never blows in the right direction for those that don’t know where to go. Joan always knew his way and so he always knew the right way to go.”

This speech was followed by two videos. The first one was recorded by Andreu Mas-Colell, who was abroad. He described Joan Guinovart as an important scientist in the promotion of biochemistry in Spain. “Joan was a key figure in a new generation of people that worked unreservedly to develop first-rate science.” Mas-Colell did not overlook Guinovart’s efforts to promote science among young people, through projects like Crazy about Biomedicine.

The second video was a compilation of short videos of former PhD students and other fellow scientists who had been inspired by Joan and who wanted to acknowledge  his mentorship and its contribution to their academic careers. The words of all those who appeared in this video were charged with scientific passion and affection for the former director.

Posas then introduced Federico Mayor Menéndez, full professor of biochemistry at the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM) and director of the Molecular Biology Institute of the same. Menéndez highlighted the importance Joan had given throughout his career to building bridges between science and society. He talked about the importance of the science policy of the former director. “Joan was able to imagine new approaches, to bridge gaps, and to ask Why not?”

The master of ceremonies next introduced Joan Massagué, President of IRB Barcelona’s External Advisory Board. Massagué described Guinovart as a “science activist, with passion, good leadership, clear ideas and excellent taste.” Massagué commented that there would never have been an IRB Barcelona without Guinovart. Under his guidance, the Institute had become not only a reference centre of research  but Guinovart also created a brand for the Institute, in search of quality science.

Next came an audio by Maria Freire, Chair of IRB Barcelona’s Business Advisory Board  audio, in which she described Guinovart as an internationally recognised scientist and an outstanding communicator. She highlighted the humanity in Joan Guinovart’s work and his pursuit to serve others. “Any initiative that Joan decides to undertake will bring about benefits for everyone.”

It was then the turn of in-house scientists. The first person to speak was Ernest Giralt, group leader at IRB Barcelona since its very outset and professor emeritus of the University of Barcelona. He described Joan as a born leader, a visionary and a hard worker, not only at the professional level but also at the personal level. He commented on the past and the future of the Institute and about its mission to become an international reference.

Next up was Raúl Méndez, deputy director of IRB Barcelona. “Joan had the capacity to keep one eye on IRB’s compass and the other on the future of science in Catalonia, Spain and Europe.” He commented that Joan’s love of  his work was also reflected in his passion as a teacher, both in teaching PhD students, and secondary school pupils with projects like Crazy about Biomedicine.

Margarida Corominas, managing director of IRB Barcelona, was the next speaker to pay tribute to Joan Guinovart. In addition to some amusing anecdotes that reflected Guinovart’s personality, Corominas highlighted his capacity to strengthen the team and turn IRB into a family. Using Joan Guinovart’s own words, she told him, “Joan, we will keep searching people with talent, giving priority to quality over quantity, and we will continue to go through hard times but we will be tireless in our efforts.”

After these speeches, it was time for another video, this time with photos and press articles that illustrated Joan’s long career. In this video, all the words used by the speakers in their tributes were reflected in images: a full professional life, an important role as a mentor, as a scientist, as a communicator and as a director. Francesc Posas, together with Margarida Corominas, presented Joan with a gift, namely a portrait by Hanoch Piven, an Israeli-American artist that lives between Barcelona, Israel and the US. Some years ago, the artist had given a workshop on creativity at IRB Barcelona and the former director had been delighted with the results. The gift was highly symbolic, and Joan Guinovart was touched by the gesture.

Finally, it was the time for Joan J. Guinovart to speak. His words were charged with gratitude towards all the attendees, the speakers, and all those that had one way or another made IRB Barcelona possible. Joan did not forget his students or the “crazies”. He also thanked the University of Barcelona and ICREA for their roles as “fundamental pillars”. He considered himself a lucky man for being able to work with intelligent students and good companions. “The success of IRB Barcelona is the result of all those who work here.” Guinovart ended his speech by revealing the recipe for success: “Choose the best and make sure to choose those who are better than you.”

Albert Barberà, the director general of Recerca Innovació en Salut, of the Departament de Salut of the Catalan Government wrapped up the ceremony. He spoke about the importance of curiosity-driven research that IRB Barcelona performs to contribute to the discovery of new medicines. “First-class research plays an important role in the discovery of the medicine of the future.” With pride in his voice, Barberà, former PhD student under Guinovart, said that it had been a privilege to study under his supervision.

After the group photo, the celebration moved to the terrace of the restaurant Fifteen, located in the Barcelona Research Park itself. This was an opportunity for all those attending the event to congratulate Joan Guinovart. The evening ended with champagne, a generous gift from the owners of the Set Portes restaurant, in Barcelona, friends of Joan Guinovart.

It was a pleasant evening, full of happiness, and gratitude to Joan Guinovart, not only for his work at IRB Barcelona, but also for his contributions to national and international biochemistry. Joan J. Guinovart served as director of IRB Barcelona for over thirteen years, during which time he steered it from its launch to what it is today. With a scientific career that is still ongoing and an impressive number of achievements under his belt, Joan J. Guinovart forms part of the soul of IRB Barcelona.

(Author: Isa J. González)