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College of Engineering ECE Chair Dies

Police rule death of Franco Cerrina not a criminal matter


Franco Cerrina, who had “distinguished himself by his intellect, leadership, and warmth to all who had the chance to know him,” says BU President Robert A. Brown, will be sorely missed.

Franco Cerrina, 62, chair of the College of Engineering’s electrical and computer engineering department, was found dead Monday morning 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. A faculty member called the Boston University Police Department, which contacted Boston Police.

Boston Police spokesperson Jill Flynn says officers arrived at the scene at 9:35 a.m. The death has been ruled “noncriminal” by the Boston department. “It is not a homicide,” Flynn says.

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

President Robert A. Brown says Cerrina will be sorely missed. “Although he had only been with us for less than two years,” Brown says, “Franco had already distinguished himself by his intellect, leadership, and warmth to all who had the chance to know him.”

Kenneth Lutchen, dean of ENG, says that Cerrina was the kind of person who would help to build his department and his college. “I feel very sad for him and for his family,” says Lutchen. “I also feel sad for the faculty and the entire department.

“There is no evidence that this death had anything to do with safety issues with his lab or this building.”

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

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

Wayne Rennie, director of the electrical and computer engineering department, describes Cerrina, who rode his bike to work from Cambridge, as a “wonderful, fantastic, and gentle person.”

“He always had time for you,” says Rennie. “He always had time for your problems.”

Before coming to BU as electrical and computer engineering chair in August 2008, Cerrina taught for 24 years at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he was the Lynn H. Matthias Professor in Engineering and director of the university’s Center for NanoTechnology, a research organization specializing in advanced semiconductor lithography and nanofabrication. At Wisconsin, Cerrina’s research focused on the application of techniques developed for semiconductor nanofabrication to biological problems.

Cerrina, who earned a PhD in physics at the University of Rome in 1974, held 16 patents and was a cofounder 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.

Grief counseling is available at Student Health Services, 881 Commonwealth Ave., at Marsh Chapel, at the Office of the Dean of Students, and at the Faculty Staff Assistance Office.

Leslie Friday can be reached at lfriday@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @lesliefriday. Art Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@bu.edu.


13 Comments on College of Engineering ECE Chair Dies

  • DB on 07.12.2010 at 7:35 pm

    God that’s just awful. What a nice guy, too.

  • Anonymous on 07.13.2010 at 10:16 am

    One of the best professors I’ve had in ENG, so sorry to hear about this. Such a nice person.

  • Anonymous on 07.13.2010 at 2:09 pm

    This is really sad.. I met him at my Spring Open house earlier this year too… He was so nice…

  • Anonymous on 07.13.2010 at 2:35 pm

    He will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. He was an amazing, sweet, and brilliant person. The next chair has big shoes to fill.

  • Barry on 07.13.2010 at 6:29 pm

    Horrible News

    I never had a class with Professor Cerrina, but I often went to him for help with my class work. He was such a caring, personable human being who connected so easily with everyone he met. This is a tragedy and he will be missed greatly. I hardly knew him myself, and I am deeply upset. My condolences go out to his family.

  • federica on 07.14.2010 at 5:29 am

    buon viaggio zietto

    Un’ uomo speciale, una mente particolare… Mi mancherai tantissimo zietto, ma mi raccomando, dai un bacio al mio papone e…goditelo tu ora, è tutto per te come mai nella vostra vita. Sono davvero orgogliosa di te. Un bacio grande, fede

  • Alessandra Cerrina on 07.14.2010 at 6:07 am

    bye uncle Franco

    It’s very hard to accept this tragedy. He passed is life in the research, loving his job, the students, so he could only die in a laboratory doing experiments.

    In the last times he passed often to visit us in Rome.
    His brother died on january, and he was here with us.
    He had become a very important part in our life and in our hearts.
    He joined his brother now. So I can only say:
    Buon viaggio zio

  • Anonymous on 07.14.2010 at 3:27 pm

    My deepest sympathy to his family.

  • Roberta on 07.15.2010 at 7:24 am

    un abbraccio

    te ne sei andato troppo presto. La vita ci ha portati lontano ma la nostra amicizia è rimasta viva sempre. Sei un uomo speciale soprattutto nelle tue grandi passioni, il lavoro e l’insegnamento. Nulla è finito per sempre e un giorno tutta la famiglia sarà riunita…..

  • Claudio Quaresima on 07.15.2010 at 12:50 pm

    Franco Cerrina

    The first time I met Franco was in Frascati in 1974. I was a student and he a young scientist of CNR. My first command was to help him to design a beam line for synchrotron radiation. I consider that as one of the most fruitful and amusing periods in my life: Franco really enjoyed his job and his enthusiasm was really contagious. After that year we met each other only occasionally but every time he confirmed my original impressions of him.
    The circumstances of his death are tragic but, symbolically, represent the summary of his whole life
    Ciao Franco

  • Artak Isoyan on 07.16.2010 at 1:57 am

    The Best Professor!

    Franco was the best Professor! This is a terrible tragedy for everyone…

  • Ahmad Katnani on 07.18.2010 at 11:51 pm

    Shocking news

    I am completely in shock. I have known Franco since graduate school at Wsiconsin. The saddest part is, I was planning to call him for advise on postdoc or student for an open position I have, I wish I had follwed up on my intent a couple of days earlier.
    Franco will be sorely missed. My sincere condolonses to the family at alrge (blood or kindness related, may the memories of him ease the sorrow.

  • Anonymous on 07.22.2010 at 10:01 am

    Memorial service July 21, 2010

    It was a beautiful service on a sunny, warm day in Madison – picture perfect. The church was filled with many many people – hundreds. Along the reception line there were photos, pictures and drawings – who knew Franco was an artist as well (though one of his daughter’s noted that he could sculpt small animals from candle wax). A eulogy was delivered by his friend John Wiley, former chancellor at UW-Madison. The fathers noted his dedication to family and work – noting Franco’s curiousity and love of discovery. His family orchestrated a wonderful ceremony of rememberance!

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