Robert S Marianelli

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Another great loss to the department was the passing of a former faculty member, colleague, mentor, and advisor to the department, Dr. Robert S Marianelli, Ph.D.   Marianelli was from Columbia, Maryland and died December 22, 2013, at the age of 72 after a struggle with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

Marianelli earned his undergraduate degree in Mathematics at the University of Delaware and his PhD in Chemistry at University of California- Berkeley. He completed his degree in three years because he was one of the students that the university pushed through during the Sputnik era. After graduating in 1966, he joined the Chemistry department at the University of Nebraska (UNL). There he taught for 12 years and was granted tenure. Although he enjoyed teaching and research, he said that he had a hard time asking for money to support his research projects.

In 1977 he was presented with an opportunity to take a leave of absence from the university and work for the Energy Research and Development Administration (ERDA) which was about to become the Department of Energy (DOE). Marianelli felt he could accomplish more by managing science than by performing science. He took the two-year leave of absence and then in 1979 accepted a permanent position with DOE.

Marianelli worked 20 years with the DOE and during that time he served 8 years as a program manager, a short stint as a branch chief, and 12 years as director of the Chemical Sciences Division. He was especially proud that he helped identify and foster many extremely bright scientists, six of whom went on to earn Nobel Prizes, perhaps the top honor a scientist can receive. The six Nobel Laureates were Yuan Lee, Dick Schrock, Bob Grubbs, Sherwood Rowland, Donald Cram, and Richard Smalley. He had said that he did not care to be in the limelight but only wanted to see things accomplished and felt he could foresee who had real talent and creativity and could then help provide funding necessary to continue their research.

In addition, Marianelli helped develop, plan, and manage several successful DOE facilities. For example, he assisted with planning the creation of the Environmental Molecular Science Laboratory at the Pacific Northwest National Lab in Richland, Washington which cost $230 million to build, he oversaw the operations of the Combustion Research facility at Sandia Livermore, and the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab, both in California and partnered with the National Science Foundation (NSF) to fund and develop the Environmental Molecular Science Institutes. He received unexpected funding of $3.5 million to start an advanced battery program. The program contributed significantly to some of the science that is important today in advanced batteries and fuel cells.

In 1998, during the Clinton Administration, Marianelli took a position as the assistant director for Physical Sciences & Engineering with the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which is part of the Executive Office of the President.

After retiring from the Government, Marianelli continued to consult with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Battelle, and other programs within the DOE Office of Science.

Although he left the University of Nebraska in 1977, he continued to make a difference for the university and its students. He served on the Industrial Advisory Board for the UNL Department of Chemistry along with 20 other board members. One of his most prized accomplishments as a board member was the scholarship fund he helped develop. When a prior colleague passed away, Marianelli said, “I could do what others do and just make out a check to a memorial fund but that money will never reach the endowment level. Then I came up with the idea of a Chemistry Faculty Remembrance Fund.” The concept was to honor faculty who had spent most of their entire career with UNL’s Department of Chemistry and to provide a scholarship to a deserving undergraduate or graduate student with the spendable income generated by this fund. He was pleased that the fund reached the endowment level and several scholarships have since been awarded.

He is survived by his wife Kathy Marianelli and his siblings; Maria Kwiatkowski and John Marianelli from Delaware and Ann Clawson from Naperville, Illinois.

If you would like to remember these amazing faculty members through a donation to the Chemistry Remembrance Fund please click the right button: Give Now