Magdalena Araceli Mouján Otaño

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26 March 1926
Pehuajó, Argentina
16 July 2005
Mar del Plata, Argentina

Magdalena Mouján was an Argentine mathematician who became famed as a writer of science fiction. She taught mathematics and statistics at various Argentine universities: Universidad Católica de la Plata, Universidad Nacional de Córdoba, Universidad Nacional del Comahue, and Universidad Nacional de Luján.


Magdalena Mouján was the daughter of Armando Mouján and María Teresa Otaño Alberdi (1899-1989). Teresa was the daughter of Pedro María Otaño Barriola (1857-1910) and his wife María Magdalena Alberdi Descarga (1863-1934). Pedro María Otaño Barriola was a famous Basque poet whose four sons, Bernardo Otaño Alberdi (1892-1959), Bernardo Otaño Alberdi (1892-1959), Juan Miguel Otaño Alberdi (1894-1946) and José Ignacio Otaño Alberdi (1896-1982) were all born in Spain before the family emigrated to Argentina in 1898. María Teresa Otaño Alberdi, the mother of Magdalena, was born in Pehuajó, Argentina, on 20 September 1899. The town of Pehuajó was proud of its literary figures with the streets and squares name for poets and writers. Magdalena Mouján, the subject of this biography, was born in Pehuajó sixteen years after the death of her grandfather, but she would become very influenced by his poetry and his Basque roots.

Magdalena was given the nicknamed "beltxa" at home. This is the Basque word for "black". In fact her mother taught her the Basque language when she was a child so she grew up being bilingual in Basque and Spanish. She attended primary and secondary school in Pehuajó which is a city in the province of Buenos Aires about 470 km south west of the city of Buenos Aires. After graduating from High School, she entered the National University of La Plata. This university, in the town of La Plata which is on the coast south of Buenos Aires, began operating in 1897 becoming a national university in 1905.

At the National University of La Plata, Mouján was fortunate to be taught by Manuel Sadosky and Luís Antoni Santaló. Manuel Sadosky was an Assistant in the Department of Mathematics in the Faculty of Physico-mathematical Sciences of the National University of La Plata and was in charge of the practical courses Higher Mathematics I and II (differential equations and analytical functions). Luís Santaló was a leading Spanish mathematician who had left Spain for political reasons due to the Spanish Civil War. After a short stay in France, he took the advice of Julio Rey Pastor and went to Argentina in 1939. There he served as a professor in the National University of the Littoral, the National University of La Plata and the University of Buenos Aires. Mouján was also friendly with her talented fellow student Rebeca Cherep (better known as Rebeca Guber after her marriage to José Guber who was an engineering student at the National University of La Plata while Mouján was studying there). After her first degree Mouján continued to undertake research in mathematical physics for a Ph.D. and she was awarded the degree in 1950. She then taught mathematics, did some research in mathematics, and wrote some popular articles for the magazine Mundo Atómico between the years 1952 and 1955. This magazine, published between 1950 and 1955, contained articles on scientific topics such as mathematics, astronomy, health, and physics. Here are examples of her papers in Mundo Atómico : Electrodinámica clásica según J Wheeler y R Feynman (1952), Detectores fabricados en el país (1952), La teoría de grupos y sus aplicaciones en mecánica cuántica (1952), Causalidad y azar en Física, según Max Born (1953), El isomorfismo de Hermann Weyl (1953), Ideas sobre la realidad presentes en la física actual (1953), Lógica y física cuántica (1955), Alberto Einstein (1955). We note that Luís Santaló was also a regular contributor to Mundo Atómico .

Juan Perón had been elected president of Argentina in 1946. He introduced reforms so that universities lost their autonomy and only his supporters could hold university posts. He supported Mundo Atómico and in fact contributed several articles to it himself. In 1955 there was a coup that ousted Perón. He had begun to lose the support of the military and, after a failed coup in June 1955, another in September 1955 succeeded and Perón fled to exile in Spain. Although there was an unstable political situation over the following years, the universities regained their autonomy in 1956. The new government saw Mundo Atómico as supported by Perón so it was closed down.

Agustín Durañona y Vedia (1904-1980) was an Argentine mathematician who had graduated from the National University of La Plata in 1927 and then undertaken post-doctoral work at the universities of Berlin and Göttingen. At this time he worked on pure mathematics and published papers in 1926 such as Sobre producto de series sumables Borel and Una demostración de un teorema de Lebesgue del cálculo integral . In 1947 he was appointed a full member of the National Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Buenos Aires. Like Mouján, Durañona y Vedia published in Mundo Atómico . His articles include: Donde se trata de matemáticas y matemáticos (1951), Ciencia y metafísica (1952), La lógica cuántica (1953), Henri Poincaré - Centenario de su nacimiento (1955).

It was around 1957 that Durañona y Vedia became interested in applying mathematics to real life problems and he developed methods in operations research. He thought that his best route for support was through the armed forces and, beginning in 1957, gave a course at the Higher Technical School of the Army. He made a proposal to the Board of Scientific Research and Experimentation of the Armed Forces to set up an "Operations Research Group", which he would lead himself, and he proposed that it be composed of three other members: Magdalena Mouján Otaño, Horacio C Reggini, a structural engineer, and Isidoro Marín, a civil engineer. The Operations Research Group began its activities on 1 December 1957. Also in 1957 Durañona y Vedia and Mouján Otaño had produced a publication for the National Atomic Energy Commission entitled "Operations Research". They write that their aim is:-
... to highlight the importance of the discipline in the management of companies of the most diverse nature.
After Perón was ousted by a coup in 1955 a freedom of education act was brought in which allowed the creation of private universities. In 1956, the bishops of Argentina decided to create the Catholic University of Argentina and it was formally founded on 7 March 1958. Mouján was involved in the establishment of the Faculty of Physical, Mathematical and Engineering Sciences in the Catholic University of Argentina and, at the end of 1959, was appointed as a full professor in the Faculty. Agustín Durañona y Vedia became the first dean of that Faculty.

In 1961 Mouján became a member of the Argentine Atomic Energy Commission. She then was able to use Clementina, the first computer to be installed in Argentina, to numerically solve two problems involving systems of differential equations. Clementina, a Ferranti Mercury computer so called because it had been programmed to play the song Oh My Darling, Clementine, was installed in the Computational Institute of the University of Buenos Aires and began operating on 15 May 1961. Mouján knew most of the members of the team running Clementina which was headed by Manuel Sadosky. Rebeca Guber and Cecilia Berdichevsky. The Argentine Atomic Energy Commission was working on the RA-1 reactor, the first reactor to start up in all of Latin America and the southern hemisphere. Mouján was brought on to the team to strengthen it but before starting work on this project, she had to take courses on the theories of radiochemistry, electronics and reactors.

Arturo Illia had become President of Argentina following elections in June 1963. He tried to split the Perónists, who controlled the unions, from their exiled leader Perón. The Perónists reacted by supporting a coup against President Arturo Illia in June 1966 and General Juan Carlos Onganía, the commander in chief of the army, took control of the country. Mouján did not support General Onganía and had to resign her university position. After a few years she returned to university teaching but from this time on she also became a science fiction writer. She wrote under the pseudonym Inge Matquim and soon achieved fame winning joint first prize at the major Argentine Science Fiction Convention Mardelcon held in Mar Del Plata. It was held between 26 and 28 July 1968 and Mouján was joint winner of the story contest with Los Huáqueros .

One can see by looking at the references that we give for this biography of Mouján that she is better known as a writer of science fiction than she is as a mathematician. This probably would not be the case but for her article Gu ta Gutarrak . This is [12]:-
... the story told of the origin of the Basque people as the result of a paradoxical travelling in time by a group including a present-day Basque scientist - among whom was the authoress, of course, resolving by chance the mystery that at present still veils this people and their language.
Mouján wrote the article in 1968; it was inspired by a poem with the same name written by her grandfather Pedro María Otaño Barriola in 1899. She submitted it to the Spanish magazine Nueva Dimensión and it was accepted in 1970. Publication, however, was stopped by President Franco's regime with the Court of Public Order ordering the magazine be withdrawn from the market. They argued that the content of the story jeopardised the unity of Spain. Domingo Santo writes in [13]:-
From there, pandemonium broke out. In the United States, Donald A Wollheim, owner of DAW Books and one of the most influential personalities in the field of science fiction in his country, as soon as he heard the news, mobilised all the science fiction fan clubs and mobilised the fandom to send strong letters of protest to the Spanish embassy in the United States for this "unacceptable attack on freedom of expression." Harlan Ellison, who since the beginning of 'Nueva Dimensión' had given us his most enthusiastic support and collaboration, and who at that time collaborated assiduously with a series of national television networks, as soon as he knew what had happened he told us that he was going to prepare a whole series of special programmes on "the oppression of intellectual freedom in that beloved country." The author herself sent to the Ministry of Information and Tourism an extensive curriculum vitae of hers in which she demonstrated without a doubt that her personal status, scientific and intellectual, was far beyond and far above separatism and attacks.
Let us quote a little from Gu ta Gutarrak [11]:-
The Baskos (it is not an error, it is the correct spelling) we have nothing racist. We are not a race, but a species. A species that, when mixed with the other, continues to result in pure baskos. ... It is known that when we do not like a government, we emigrate. In general, violence displeases us, we are peaceful people, enemies of killing, especially if it is not with a bare hand. Generally those of us who emigrate go to the Americas. That has been my case, and Jainkoa (or Jaungoikoa, the Lord who is up there) has punished me for wanting to be so rich, since I have always been alone. Because you have to see that the Baskos born here are different. It must be the abundance of flat and fertile land, the Basko is from the mountains, that's why many Baskos here have degenerated into ranchers, and later into well-to-do children, people without the virtues of the race.
Marta Macho Stadler, who has a doctorate in mathematics, tells us that Mouján puts quite a lot of science into her story [16]:-
In this funny story, one of the protagonist's sons - Xaviertxo, who is gifted - becomes a physicist to "study the structure of the space-time continuum." His knowledge allows him to build a time machine - baptised as 'Pimpilimpausa' (butterfly, in Basque) - with the help of his little sister - Malentxo - who invents a new logic, one necessary to avoid paradoxes produced by the jumps in time. This machine represents "... the great revolution in physics, something much more important than relativity, and than quantum theory and than the atomic bomb ...".
Gu ta Gutarrak was replaced in Nueva Dimensión No 14 by the comic 'Formicology' and the issue was reprinted. Although the Court of Public Order threatened to bring Nueva Dimensión to trial over their attempt to publish, in fact no trial ever took place. Subsequently, Nueva Dimensión published two other stories by Mouján: Bicho'e parra en orbit (Nueva Dimensión 18) and El lagarto rojo (Nueva Dimensión 101). Following Franco's death in 1975 it was thought possible to publish Gu ta Gutarrak and it appeared in Nueva Dimensión 114 in 1979. Note the choice to publish what should have been in No 14 appeared in No 114.

Let us return to Mouján's mathematical career. We quote from her colleague and collaborator Jorge E Sagula (see [7]):-
In the 1970s, already based in the city of La Plata, she was on the staff at the Faculty of Applied Mathematics of the Catholic University of La Plata, particularly teaching subjects of higher years in the Bachelor of Applied Mathematics and in the Bachelor of Statistics.

I met Dr Moujan Otaño in 1980, while she was teaching Applied Mathematics at the Catholic University of La Plata. We worked together on many projects: research, articles, books (for example: "Fundamentals of Computational Mathematics", published in the city of La Plata in 1992), stories, sharing learning languages, for example, Russian; sharing direction and co-direction of thesis students and research projects, among other major topics.

The last stage of teaching, as Full Professor in the Statistics and Systems Division, was carried out at the National University of Luján, particularly at the Chivilcoy Regional Center, responding to the proposal that I formulated in 1989.

When Magdalena left this world on 16 July 2005, twenty-five years after we met, we were united by a superior relationship, a strong family and professional bond. It took me more than 6 months to accept her departure, but she is continually in my memory.
Mouján died at the age of 79 in a hospital in Mar del Plata. She asked to be buried next to his grandfather in the cemetery of Mar del Plata.

References (show)

  1. C C Albarracín, "Gu ta Gutarrak (Nosotros y los nuestros)", de Magdalena Mouján Otaño: transculturación y neoculturación, VII Congreso Nacional de Hispanistas: Hispanismo: Discursos culturales, identidad y memoria II (2006), 119-125.
  2. A E Azcona, Un Bertsolari Vasco en las Pampas, Buber's Basque Page.
  3. A L Bell and Y Molina-Gavilán, Magdalena Mouján Otaño, in Cosmos Latinos: An Anthology of Science Fiction from Latin America and Spain (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), 123-135.
  4. Falleció Magdalena Moujan Otaño, escritora vasco argentina y nieta del bertsolari Pedro Mari Otaño, Basque Heritage Elkartea (23 July 2005).
  5. Los vascos lapridenses celebraron sus Bodas de Plata, El Poular (9 December 2014).
  6. Magdalena Moujan Otañoren 'Gu ta gutarrak', AIURRI (5 December 2018).
  7. I Marín, Investigación Operativa en Argentina, Investigación Operativa 38 (2015), 2-17.
  8. U Martinez, Magdalena Mouján (1926-2005): Argentinako matematikari gutarra, Zientzia Kaiera (26 December 2014).
  9. Mouján Otaño, Magdalena, Axxón, Ciencia Ficción en Bits.án_Otaño
  10. Mouján Otaño, isfdb. Science Fiction.
  11. M Mouján Otaño, Gu Ta Gutarrak (Nosotros y los Nuestros), Axxón, Ciencia Ficción en Bits.
  12. C M Noguerol, A History of Science Fiction and Fandom in Argentina (Ron and Susan Clarke, 1989).
  13. C Romero, Magdalena A Mouján Otaño, in Los Universos Vislumbrados. Antología de Ciencia FicciónDescription complète (AA. VV., 1995).
  14. D Santos, Gu Ta Gutarrak - Nosotros y los Nuestros. Un Homenaje a Magdalena Moujan Otaño, BEM on Line (19 July 2010).
  15. D Santos, Un Homenaje: Magdalena Moujan Otaño y "Gu Ta Gutarrak", BEM on Line (23 November 2011).
  16. M M Stadler, Magdalena Mouján Otaño, matemática, Mujeres con ciencia (29 March 2018).

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update November 2022