Women in technology: María Wonenburger


On the day for Galician language, we have another story of a woman in tech. Today we are going to tell you the story of the galician technologist Maria Wonenburger, who had to confront her father and the era in what she lived to study and to work in her passion, the maths. The sciencitist defined her life in only five words: “I have a tendency to be happy”


Who was Maria Wonenburger

The first Spanish woman to receive a Fullright scholarship and the only female professor of mathematics at the University of Toronto – where she also directed her first PhD student – María Wonenburger was a specialist in group theory and similarity groups in Clifford algebra. However, it was not for this that she was most famous, but rather for her studies in Lie algebra.


Biographic notes

María Wonenburger was born at the galician village of Montrove in July 1927 and, at her eighteens and in confront of her father persistency –who was interested in that the young would study an engineering and that she continuing the family business- she decided to go to Madrid to study maths, a career considered for men at that moment in time.

The Galician woman was brilliant there because of her studies, and she achieved a Fulbright scholarship to develop her doctorate in algebra at the United States. With the intention of finish it and start to work, she decided to come back to Spain, where several problems about the recognition of the doctorate started and made her to start another one –with the scholarship in this occasion from the Instituto Matemático Jorge Juan del CSIC– but which finally either was valid.

It forces the technologist to go first to Canada and, a little bit later to the United States until 1983, when she came back Spain to be with her sick mother.

Since that moment and, until 2006, Wonenburger and her advances were in the shadow of the Iberic peninsula, starting this year a happy final that was characterized by the slowly recognition of her achievements.


Legacy at the tech industry

The studies that María Wonenburger carried out supposed an important legacy in the tech industry, above all about the group and algebra’s theory.

In her investigations, the galician studied the orthogonal group, and the projective; and also the automorphism of the similarity’s groups –for what she was inspired by the Jean Dieudonné projects-.

Her Lie’s algebra developments, algebraic structure defined in a vectorial space, are her biggest recognition. In addition, she supervised eight doctorate theses, being the one from Robert Moody at the University of Toronto the first and the one which what she obtained big results about the algebra structure.


Curious facts

The mathematician enjoyed a great international recognition in life. However, in her native country her achievements weren’t known until she was 79 years old.

Her recognition started thanks to María José Souto and Ana Dorotea Tarrío, two teachers from the University of A Coruña who accidentally known her story and decided to contact her in order to study it and make it known to the Spanish mathematical community.

In this way, after a lot of meetings with Wonenburger, they managed to publish and article about it in 2006. Since that moment, the technologist won important awards such as the creation by the Xunta de Galicia (Galician regional government) of the María Josefa Wonenburger Planells award (to give visibility to Galician women who works in sciences or technology), the investiture in 2010 as an honorary doctor by the University of A Coruña, the appointment as honorary partner by the RSME and even the inauguration of a Street with her own name at her native province.