María J. Yzuel: The 2021 SPIE President’s Award
María J. Yzuel's long-standing career includes stellar recognition as a teacher as well as extensive scientific production and enormous influence in a variety of optics areas, from optic systems and optical processing of information, to polarization. Her research has yielded improvements in the use of spatial light modulators as diffractive optical elements and has been applied and developed in fields such as medical and diagnostic imaging. In 1971, Yzuel was hired by the University of Zaragoza, where she became the first female professor of physics in Spain. In 1983, she joined the Autonomous University of Barcelona, where she is now a professor emeritus. Yzuel currently serves on the International Scientific Council of the South Ural State University.
Her lifelong commitment to diversity in physics includes active participation with the Association of Women Researchers and Technologists (AMIT) and the SPIE Women in Optics program. A founding member of the women physicists' group of the Royal Spanish Society of Physics (RSEF), Yzuel was awarded the RSEF Medal in 2014. In 2017, she received the University of Alicante Gender Equality Award (IgUAldad). She was the first woman president of the Spanish Optical Society (1993-1996) as well as a secretary general of the European Optical Society (1996-1998), the first Spanish scientist to occupy that position. An SPIE Fellow since 2003, she served as SPIE President in 2009.
In 2018, SPIE renamed its award for outstanding educators in honor of Yzuel: the SPIE Maria J. Yzuel Educator Award recognizes outstanding contributions to optics education by an SPIE instructor or an educator in the field. That same year, the Aragon government honored Yzuel by naming one of their Walqa Technology Park buildings after her. In 2019, The Institute of Photonic Sciences announced the Maria Yzuel Fellowship Awards for women undergraduate and postgraduate students.
"In addition to the many technical accomplishments for which she is rightly renowned, Maria is a warm and inspirational leader, a true role model for scientists everywhere," notes David Andrews, head of nanophotonics and quantum electrodynamics research at the University of East Anglia, and 2021 SPIE President. "Her commitment to teaching and volunteering — as well as ceaselessly encouraging and advocating for others — secures the position of SPIE as a truly diverse and international professional society. As the Society's incoming President, I stand in awe of her wonderful legacy."