He was born in the city of Torredembarra, Tarragona, son of the doctor Ferran Vallmitjana Borrull and Antònia Rovira Bofill. After boarding school at the De La Salle Marist Brothers School, he completed his studies at the University of Barcelona in Natural Sciences in 1934, but did not receive his diploma until after the war, in 1940. Upon completion of his degree, he published his first scientific paper, “Live staining of hydrozoans with methylene blue.”
When the Spanish Civil War broke out he was in Madrid, where he had gone with other colleagues to sit the competitive examinations to become a teacher. During the war he fought with the Republicans in the transport division, as a car, motorcycle, and truck driver. After the conflict was over, he was appointed temporary assistant and later assistant (1940-1949), at the University of Barcelona. He developed the course of micrography techniques and introduced the subject of bacteriology and protozoology at the Faculty. In 1946 he received his PhD in Natural Sciences in Madrid, with the thesis “On the chondriome of striated muscle fibers.” From 1950 up to his retirement 1985, he held the chair of Animal and Plant Histology at the Faculty of Biology of the University of Barcelona.
His scientific research was focused on the structure of cytoplasm, the study of protozoans and microscopy methods and techniques. His main research dealt with ultrastuctural aspects of striated muscle fibers, of the chondriome in particular. He also promoted the acquisition of the first electron microscope in a Catalan university and created the Commission on Electron Microscopy (1956) which finally materialized in 1965, overseeing the installation and implementation of the Electron Microscopy Service (1966). He installed two transmission microscopes, a Philips 200 and a Tesla BS 242-D, and in 1972 obtained a Cambridge Stereoscan S4 scanning electron microscope. This Service, together with the Spectroscopy Service, was in fact the precursor of the current Scientific-Technical Services of the University of Barcelona. He also directed the Electron Microscopy Service until 1984. As expressed by doctor Josep A. Bombí in the obituary dedicated to him by the Royal Academy of Medicine of Catalonia (2007), “he formed a veritable school of electron microscopy with many professors and technicians who over time have become greatly renowned at a scientific and technical level. This group was largely the initial core of the Scientific-Technical Services. I think this was one of the great contributions he made to our country.”
He also collaborated at the Spanish National Research Council as head of the Applied Histology Section of the Institute of Applied Biology. At the same time, he was secretary of the Faculty of Sciences and head of technical services of the Municipal Laboratory of Barcelona, in the water control section (1947-1960). Simultaneously, he occupied the position of Chair for a while and later that of Acting Dean of the Faculty of Biology (1977-1979).
He was a member of several academies and societies: the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona (1982); the Royal Academy of Medicine of Barcelona (1983); he was one of the first members of the Spanish Society of Electron Microscopy and of the Spanish Society of Cell Biology; member of the Catalan Institution of Natural History and the Catalan Society of Biology, two affiliated societies of the Institute for Catalan Studies, where he held several positions (vice president of the former in 1974 and president of the latter, from 1982 to 1984). He was also a member of the Royal Spanish Society of Natural History, of the Spanish Society of Histology, of the Groupement de Protistologues de Langue Française and the Ateneu Barcelonès.
After his retirement he continued to regularly participate in the different scientific activities organized by the institutions he was a member of, since he enjoyed a great lucidity until the end of his life. As reflected on the 2005 note of the Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts of Barcelona, on the occasion of his change to long-standing emeritus member, “despite his ninety years of age, he maintains an active presence in our scientific and administrative sessions.” He passed away on 15 January 2006 at the age of ninety-one.
- Observaciones sobre los corpúsculos birrefringentes de los ciliados(Vallmitjana, Gadea, Parés, 1955)
- Consideraciones críticas comparadas sobre algunos componentes del protoplasma (Vallmitjana, 1982)
- Algunos aspectos de la anatomía microscópica y sus relaciones con la técnica : el centriola (Vallmitjana, 1983)
- Tres microscopis antics de la Reial Acadèmia de Ciències i Arts de Barcelona(Vallmitjana, Vallmitjana, Rico, 1998)
- Lluís Vallmitjana i Rovira [en línia, any de creació: 2010]. A Viquipèdia <http://ca.wikipedia.org>. Consultat el 8 de desembre del 2011.
- Bombí, J. A. (2007). «Necrològica: Prof. Lluís Vallmitjana i Rovira. In memoriam. (1914-2006)» Revista de la Reial Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya, vol. 22, núm. 1, p. 26-27. [Consultable en línia, <www.ramc.cat>]
We would like to thank Vallmitjana family for writing the biographical notes that have been useful in the preparation of this biography. Photographs lent by Vallmitjana family.