Luigi "Gino" Nicolais, an adjunct professor with UConn's polymer program since the 1980's, has been named Minister of Innovation and Technologies in the new government that took office following the defeat of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's ruling party in Italy's national
Anthony DiBenedetto, an emeritus professor of chemical engineering and former vice president for academic affairs at UConn, has known and worked with Nicolais since the 1960's.
He recently served as president of a commission overseeing an academic partnership with industry that was administered by Nicolais and sponsored by the Italian state
of Campania and the European Union.
"In my opinion, it was one of the most innovative and intelligently designed programs of
its type in the world," says DiBenedetto.
"He is a man of unusual talent - a scientist with
a worldwide reputation, an outstanding administrator, and a charismatic individual."
Over the past 30 years, DiBenedetto and Nicolais have collaborated regularly in joint research projects; student exchanges between UConn and the University of Naples, where Nicolais was a faculty member; and as visiting professors at their respective universities.
Through the 1980's and 1990's, UConn and the University of Naples had an informal agreement for the promotion of research and graduate education.
In Naples, Nicolais held positions in industry and industrial management, and on the faculty and the administration of the University of Naples.
He also served as an administrator in the Office of the Governor of the State of Campania, where he was responsible for economic development for the state by fostering technical innovation through academic and industrial programs, says DiBenedetto.
Gino Nicolais, left, a long-time adjunct professor of polymer science at UConn, shakes hands with the President of Italy, Romano Prodi, after joining the Italian government as Minister of Innovation and Technologies.
Beginning in the 1980's, Nicolais and other faculty members at UConn began collaborating on polymer blends that involved liquid crystalline polymers.
Their work was some of the first done in the area.
That collaboration included a National Science Foundation grant and a number of joint publications and invited talks at international scientific meetings.
"You cannot imagine a more easy-going individual who loved to have fun," says Bob Weiss, a professor of materials science, who traveled to Naples to collaborate with Nicolais at that time, and also worked with students and colleagues sent to Storrs by Nicolais.
"He is first-rate as a scientist, but he's also modest, very easy to talk with on any subject, and genuinely fun to work with."
In April, a coalition of center-left political parties led by Romano Prodi defeated the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Italy's elections.
Several weeks later, Berlusconi resigned and Prodi assumed Italy's top office, ushering in the new government.