BU Professor Found Dead in Photonics Lab

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Boston University professor Franco Cerrina was found dead Monday in a laboratory on the fifth floor of the Photonics Center. A staff member discovered Cerrina's body lying on the floor of the lab at about 9:30 a.m., the university said.

Although no cause of death has been released, it has been ruled "noncriminal" by the Boston department, which arrived at the scene quickly after being contacted by university police. "It is not a homicide," said Boston Police spokesperson Jill Flynn.

Scott Pare, Boston University deputy director of public safety, said BU Police are working with Boston Police in investigating the death.

There is no evidence that his death was related to any safety issues at the lab or the building, university officials said, although the death was reported to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as standard procedure. 

Cerrina, 62, was chairman of the College of Engineering's electrical and computer engineering department. He came to BU in mid-August 2008 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cerrina worked at UW for 24 years and was also director of the university’s Center for NanoTechnology. At UW-Madison, Cerrina's research focused on the application of techniques developed for semiconductor nanofabrication to biological problems.

According to his profile page on the BU Web site, Cerrina's research interests centered on nanofabrication and genomics, using the technology developed for semiconductor nanofabrication to design new DNA-based molecular constructs. He developed a novel maskless photolithographic method for the rapid synthesis of DNA microarray chips, later commercialized through his company, NimbleGen Systems.

He was also involved in nanolithography and patterning, specifically using short-wavelength radiation, and developed SHADOW, an x-ray optical ray-tracing program for the development of synchrotron-based x-ray beamlines.

Former UW-Madison Chancellor John Wiley was a colleague and close personal friend of Cerrina. "This is an absolutely tragic loss for all who knew Franco,” Wiley said. “He made a profound mark on the University of Wisconsin. Franco was an international leader and pioneer in research that bridges the worlds of engineering, physics and biology. His loss will be deeply felt across the UW-Madison campus community.”

"Although he had only been with us for less than two years, Franco had already distinguished himself by his intellect, leadership and warmth to all who had the chance to know him," said BU President Robert A. Brown.

David Castañón, an engineering professor and former interim chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, said Cerrina had plans to travel on Tuesday. “I was shocked to hear the news,” Castañón said. “I literally dropped my books.”

Bennett Goldberg, a College of Arts & Sciences professor of physics, said Cerrina was a great catch for BU. “He had great experience in many fields, great integrity, and he was incredibly personable." He added that he often saw Cerrina in the gym in the morning, where Cerrina would talk about the need to stay in shape.

Cerrina, who earned a PhD in physics at the University of Rome in 1974, held 16 patents and was a co-founder of five companies. He had more than 300 reviewed publications and was a fellow of the American Physical Society, the Optical Society of America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, SPIE and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

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Published: July 2010
An SI prefix meaning one billionth (10-9). Nano can also be used to indicate the study of atoms, molecules and other structures and particles on the nanometer scale. Nano-optics (also referred to as nanophotonics), for example, is the study of how light and light-matter interactions behave on the nanometer scale. See nanophotonics.
Pertaining to optics and the phenomena of light.
A synchrotron is a type of particle accelerator that uses magnetic fields to steer charged particles, typically electrons or positrons, in a closed, circular or elliptical path. The name synchrotron refers to the synchronization of the accelerating electric field with the increasing particle velocity as they move in a circular path. Synchrotrons are powerful tools used in various scientific and industrial applications, particularly in the generation of intense beams of synchrotron radiation. ...
American Physical SocietyAmericasbeamlineBennett GoldbergbiologyBiophotonicsBoston UniversityBUBusinessdeathDNAengineeringFranco CerrinagenomicsindustrialJohn Wileymicroarray chipsnanonanofabricationnanolithographyopticalOptical Society of AmericaOSHAphotolithographicPhotonics CenterpoliceResearch & TechnologyRobert BrownsemiconductorsSHADOWSPIEsynchrotronUniversity of WisconsinUW-Madisonx-ray

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