Luciano Fonda

12.12.1931 - 21.7.1998
Passa all'Italiano
A brief biography

Born on 12th December 1931 in Pula (then part of Italy, now Croatia), the events of the war brought his family to Trieste in December 1943. He completed his high school and college studies at the local Dante Alighieri school, before graduating in Physics summa cum laude at the University of Trieste in July 1955.

After winning a public competition to become a Theoretical Physics assistant at the University of Trieste, he travelled to the United States of America with a Fulbright grant in 1958 to take the position of Research Associate at the University of Bloomington (Indiana). In 1959 Robert Oppenheimer invited him to become a member of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton.

In November 1960 he won a public competition to become a full professor of Theoretical Physics and returned to Italy in 1961, first to work at the University of Palermo and then at the University of Parma. In November 1963 he moved to the University of Trieste definitively.

He was the author of a hundred of scientific publications, including a book on quantum symmetries. His research activity covered several areas, from nuclear and subnuclear physics to condensed state physics. His main interest areas were: strong reactions, symmetries and invariance, group theory and relativity equations, nuclear reactions, nuclear fusion, threshold effects, atomic and nuclear decay, nuclear and molecular coherent rotational states, Auger electron and photoelectron diffraction, X-ray spectroscopy, and atomic source holography. He also wrote many technical and popular articles on synchrotron light.

He was given an award by the Italian Physics Society in 1960 for his pre-professor research activity and was also conferred the title of Associate Member of the Jozef Stefan Institute for his collaboration with the theory group from the University of Ljubljana.

Besides his productive research activity, Luciano Fonda was also Director of the Advanced School of Physics, which was open to scholarship holders from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Vienna and UNESCO. The School was under his management from 1964 to 1980, when he oversaw the merging of its contents and programmes into the recently born International School for Advanced Studies (Scuola Internazionale di Studi Superiori Avanzati – SISSA). As vice director, Luciano Fonda contributed both found and run SISSA for six years.

He was Director of the Theoretical Physics Institute of the University of Trieste from 1966 to 1969 and Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics, Physics and Natural Sciences from 1991 to 1997. It was during his deanship that the degree in Environmental Sciences was born.

He was also Director of the Consorzio per l'incremento studi e ricerche dei Dipartimenti di Fisica dell'Universita' di Trieste (Consortium for Physics of the University of Trieste) from 1980 to 1997 and President of the same Consortium for Physics from 1997. He was a consultant to the International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) of Trieste from its foundation in 1964.

Luciano Fonda has often been defined the ‘father’ of the ELETTRA synchrotron light machine.

From 1980 to 1985 he participated in the Intergovernmental Committee of Brussels responsible for choosing the site on which to build a European 5GeV synchrotron light machine. When the machine was assigned to Grenoble in 1985, he used the experience acquired in those years to develop, along with his collaborator Renzo Rosei, the idea of an Italian machine that would complement the European one. The construction of ELETTRA was completed in October 1993 and it is now operative in Basovizza, on the Triestine Carso. Luciano Fonda was director of the Scientific Division of Synchrotron Trieste from 1987 to 1991 and vice director from 1993.

It was for this initiative that he was conferred the San Giusto d’Oro Prize in December 1993, an award assigned every year by local reporters to a Triestine who has made the city famous in Italy and the world with his/her work.

Luciano Fonda married Thea Arcangeli and had three children, Alessandro, Paola and Gabriella.

He died in Skradin (Croatia) on 21st July 1998.

Following an initiative led by the Consortium for Physics, the ‘University College for Physical Sciences’ was instituted in Trieste at the beginning of 1999. It began its activity during the academic year of 1999-2000 and by unanimous decision the organizing committee dedicated the College to Luciano Fonda.

Further information on his life and scientific activity can be found in the book: 

Luciano Fonda, his Life and Scientific Achievements
Societa' Italiana di Fisica, Bologna, 2006.