Federico Mayor Zaragoza was born in Barcelona in 1934. He holds a Ph.D. in Pharmacy from the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (1958). In 1963, he became a Professor of Biochemistry at the Facultad de Farmacia of the Universidad de Granada. In 1968, he became Rector of that institution, a job he held until 1972. The following year, he was named Professor in his specialty at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. In these years it started up the National Plan of Prevention of Mental Handicap, to avoid, by means of precocious diagnosis, diseases that can evolve with serious mental deterioration.
In 1974, he was co-founder of the Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (High Council for Scientific Research, or CSIC). Among his other political responsibilities, Professor Mayor has been Undersecretary of Education and Science for the Spanish Government (1974-75), Member of the Spanish Parliament (1977-78), Adviser to the Prime Minister (1977-78), Minister of Education and Science (1981-82) and Member of the European Parliament (1987). In 1978, he became Assistant Director-General of the UNESCO. In 1987, he was elected Director-General of that Organization, and was reelected for a second term in 1993. In 1999, he decided not to run for a third term and, upon returning to Spain, created the Fundación Cultura de Paz, of which he is Chairman.
During the twelve years he spent as head of UNESCO (1987-1999), Professor Mayor Zaragoza gave new momentum to the Organization's mission, "to build the bastions of peace in the minds of men". It became an institution at the service of peace, tolerance, human rights and peaceful coexistence, by working within its areas of authority and remaining faithful to its original mission. Following Professor Mayor's guidelines, UNESCO created the Culture of Peace Program, whose work falls into four main categories: education for peace, human rights and democracy, the fight against exclusion and poverty, the defense of cultural pluralism and cross-cultural dialogue, and conflict prevention and the consolidation of peace.
Within the framework of this strategy, many international meetings and conferences were held on education for non-violence, eradicating discrimination and promoting pluralism and international cooperation. These meetings resulted in a considerable number of Declarations (thirty), expressing a will to promote education, science, culture, research and teaching, as well as justice and "intellectual and moral solidarity", referred to the Constitution of the UNESCO. On September 13, 1999, the United Nations General Assembly approved the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, which constitutes, from a conceptual and practical standpoint, the greatest aspirations of Professor Mayor Zaragoza.
With the Fundación Cultura de Paz, founded in Madrid in March, 2000, Professor Mayor continues with the work he started as Director-General of UNESCO: to promote, in every area of human life, the transition from a culture of violence and imposition to one of peace and tolerance. In December, 2000, he organized an International Meeting, which was attended by well-known personalities who have fought for justice, freedom and peace. At the end of that meeting, the Madrid Declaration was unanimously approved and it was published, with the interventions, the book "El Contrato Global".
In December of 2002, the Danish Presidency of the European Union named him Chaiman of ERCEG (European Research Council Expert Group) for the "knowledge-based economy" that Europe would reach the leadership in 2010.
In October 2005 be was appointed by the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan co-chair of the High-Level Group for the "Alliance of Civilizations". The Report of the HLG was presented in Istambul in November 2006.
Chairman of “Initiative for Science in Europe” (ISE), January 2007.
In June of 2008, Federico Mayor has been named Chairman of the Agency of News "Inter Press Service (IPS)".
Among other activities of national and international cooperation, it emphasizes the creation, in the Univesidad Politécnica de Cataluña, of the World-wide Forum of the Civil Society, "UBUNTU", intended as a network of networks, an organisation of organisations to combine official notices, positionings and proposals, since 2001 concentrates its dedication to the Reform of International Institutions.
In addition to his numerous scientific publications, Professor Federico Mayor has published four books of poetry, A contraviento (1985), Aguafuertes (1991), El fuego y la esperanza (1996) and Terral (1997), Voz de vida, voz debida (2007), Alzaré mi voz (2007), En pie de paz (2008) and several books of essays: Un mundo nuevo (in English, The World Ahead: Our Future in the Making) (1999), Los nudos gordianos (1999) Mañana siempre es tarde (1987), La nueva página (1994), Memoria del futuro (1994), La paix demain? (1995), Science and Power (1995) and UNESCO: un idéal en action (1996), "La palabra y la espada" (2002), "La fuerza de la palabra" (2005) and "Diálogo ibérico en el marco europeo y mundial" with the former President of Portugal Mr. Mario Soares (2006), Enfermedades metabólicas (2006) (ed.), Tiempo de acción (2008)…