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Mario Nardelli (1922-2004)

[Nardelli]Mario Nardelli died at home in Parma, Italy on September 24 2004 in his 82nd year after 58 years increasingly and fruitfully dedicated to research and teaching. He was amongst the leading crystallographers in the world and one of the pioneers in the field of structural chemistry by single crystal X-ray diffraction in Italy and leaves a school of Structural Chemistry in Parma well known among the crystallographers of the world.

What follows is a portrait of the scientist and of the man, outlined by those who were close to him, but we believe that everybody who knew Mario will share our memories of him.

Mario Nardelli was born in Parma on January 6, 1922; he was educated at the classical lyceum of Genova until 1941. He then moved back to Parma and in March 1946 he obtained his degree in Chemistry summa cum laude at the University of Parma.

He started his academic career in 1946, as an Assistant Professor, under the guidance of Adolfo Ferrari who stimulated the initial interest of this bright young researcher in the analysis of crystal structures of inorganic salts by X-ray diffraction methods. In 1950, he was awarded the Italian National Special Prize for “Scientific Endevour”.

In 1963, thanks to his intense and fruitful research activity, Mario Nardelli was appointed to the Chair of Structural Chemistry at the Faculty of Mathematics Physical and Natural Sciences of the University of Parma. In 1967, he succeeded Adolfo Ferrari as Full Professor of general and inorganic chemistry and maintained this academic position until October 31, 1996, when the Italian Ministry for University and Scientific and Technological Research awarded him the title of Professor Emeritus.

Mario Nardelli was the head of the Institute of Structural Chemistry at the University of Parma and founded a school of crystallography, held in high national and international esteem. From 1979 to 1992, he also directed the Centro di Studio per la Strutturistica Diffrattometrica of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) in Parma.

He held many academic and institutional positions, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy, member of the Administrative Council of the University of Parma, President of the Italian Crystallographic Assn. He was a member of the National Italian Commission of the National Research Council (1969 to 1975). In 1976 he was awarded the gold medal for “Meritorius Persons in School, Culture and Arts”.

In the early sixties, to promote research in structural chemistry in Parma, Prof. Nardelli worked on the the foundation of the first computing center at the University of Parma of which he was director for more than twenty years; at the same time he was one of the leaders of CINECA (National Center for Supercomputing and University Services), one of the foremost computing centers in Europe. Mario foresaw the importance of a knowledge of computing science for young generations from the very beginning, in 1966 he promoted (for the first time in Italy) the teaching of computer programming in the chemistry degree at the University of Parma.

He was a member of the Data Commission of the IUCr (1975 to 1981) and a member of the IUCr Executive Committee (1981 to 1993). In 1987 he was elected President of the IUCr, and from 1990 to 1993 he represented the Union at the International Council of Scientific Unions.

He made an important contribution to the growth and diffusion of crystallography in the world when, in 1972, he founded the Journal Crystal Structure Communication in which the data, reported in structural papers, were submitted for the first time to an automatic check prior to publication.

This journal was incorporated into Acta Crystallographica Sect. C in 1983 and the automatic check of crystal structures was extended to all the papers published in journals where crystal structures are reported.

From 1981 to 1988, and from 1991 till his departure, he was Co-editor of Acta Crystallographica B, C and E and, in this capacity, he dedicated most of his time to checking many of the papers submitted to the journal personally; to many authors, he not only gave advice on mistakes that had been made, but also provided an accurate analysis of the source of the errors and the exact values, calculated by himself.

Mario was higly rigorous in his scientific activity, and dedicated much effort to finding methods for calculating the reliability of reported data, including estimated standard deviations. For this reason, he devoted part of his time to writing a series of crystallographic computing programs, made freely available to the crystallographic community.

But, throughout this intense range of activities, he always remained attracted to every scientific question, and anyone with an intriguing problem always found his door open.

Mario Nardelli constantly stimulated our interest in chemical crystallography but we were always free to choose our research lines and to decide how to organize our activities even if he was always ready, when asked, to give us help and advice.

He always kept a humble attitude, without prejudice with regards to science and colleagues. Most of us remember when he, already famous in the world of crystallographers, attended (with some of us as the teachers) as an ordinary “student” the Italian Schools of Crystallography, a traditional school mainly organized for young researchers who were taking their first steps in crystallography, because, as he always used to say “there is always occasion to learn”.

We now receive this scientific and moral inheritance and it will be our duty to transfer the human and scientific lessons of Mario Nardelli to the new generations of young researchers.

His fellows at the University of Parma