Franco Cerrina

In Memoriam: Franco Cerrina

July 12, 2010

In Memoriam: Franco Cerrina, 1948-2010

Franco Cerrina

Franco Cerrina, an OSA Fellow who was chair of the Boston University (BU) College of Engineering's electrical and computer engineering department, was found dead in his laboratory on July 12, 2010. The death was ruled "noncriminal" by the Boston Police department. Cerrina was 62.

Cerrina earned his PhD in solid-state physics in 1974 from the University of Rome. He taught for 24 years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, starting as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Chemistry. He held various scientific roles at the university until accepting a position in 1984 as an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Cerrina was promoted to full professor in 1990; he was McFarland-Bascom Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering from 2001 to 2005 and Lynn H. Matthias Professor in Engineering from 2005 to 2008. He directed the UW-Madison Center for X-Ray Lithography from 1989 to 1998 and directed the Center for NanoTechnology, a research organization specializing in advanced semiconductor lithography and nanofabrication, from 1998 to 2010. Cerrina went to BU in August, 2008.

As a researcher, Cerrina applied physical sciences and engineering to manufacturing and biological challenges, focusing most recently on nanotechnology and biotechnology. Cerrina pushed the limits of photolithography for nanoscale applications, ranging from fabricating devices on computer chips to DNA synthesis for biological research, drug and vaccine development, and genetic engineering. In particular, he applied semiconductor fabrication techniques to biological problems, a pursuit that yielded the maskless array synthesizer commercialized by NimbleGen Systems Inc., his first spin-off company.

Through the Center for NanoTechnology, Cerrina was developing new patterning techniques for device fabrication by merging standard lithography and molecular-level, scale-up methods. Also affiliated with the UW-Madison Center for Biotechnology, he worked closely with the semiconductor industry and federal government on developing fabrication methods that will yield advanced processors and memory chips.

To commercialize products related to his research, Cerrina co-founded five companies:

  • NimbleGen Systems, which manufactures DNA microarrays and provides genomic services. Hoffman-La Roche Pharmaceutical purchased it in 2007.
  • Genetic Assemblies Inc., founded to market custom double-stranded DNA sequences (genes). The company merged with Codon Devices Inc. in 2006.
  • Codon Devices Inc., which focuses on DNA synthesis and synthetic biology.
  • Biolitho Inc., which develops innovative engineering solutions to biological and genetic problems.
  • Gen9 Inc., which focuses on DNA synthesis and synthetic biology.

Cerrina held 16 patents and had more than 300 reviewed publications. He was elected as an OSA Fellow in 1999, and he was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Physical Society, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the Society of Photo-Imaging Engineers, and SPIE.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of Dr. Franco Cerrina, please visit

OSA Awards & Distinctions