Pierluigi Riboni passed away in Geneva on 9 November, aged 85, as a consequence of COVID-19. Born in Pavia, Italy, he graduated from Milan Polytechnic in 1961 as a mechanical engineer. After working a few years for Montecatini in Porto Marghera near Venice, he joined CERN as the head of the Mechanics group in the Engineering division. Initially his work focused on supporting the PS groups and, in particular, concerned the vacuum systems. In the 1970s he also contributed to the design of ESO’s 3.6 m telescope.
During the early 1990s Riboni became the head of CERN’s central machine shop, which is responsible for supporting the accelerators and detectors by supplying machines and material, from conceptual design to quality-controlled end products. Personnel shortages during these times meant that he often had to face the “making or buying” dilemma, leading him to become increasingly involved with technology transfer to industry. For nearly 20 years he co-organised the industry sessions of the biannual Conference on Astroparticle and Particle Physics, Detectors and Medical Applications, held in Como, Italy. The conference became an important venue for knowledge exchange for several hundred scientists, engineers, managers and administrators of research institutions.
Pierluigi remained active long into his retirement, in particular contributing to CERN’s activities. He was one of the first engineers involved in the CMS detector, and continued to contribute through an association with ETH-Zurich, focusing on the production of the superconducting cable of the solenoid and on the manufacturing of four grease pads. In 2002 he joined the TERA Foundation, which collaborates with CERN in the development of hadron therapy techniques, and contributed to the mechanical design of both high-frequency proton accelerators and gantries that support magnetic beam lines and rotate around the patient’s bed. In particular, he designed a gantry that weighed 25 tonnes, which was 10 times less than the existing ones. The report on SIGRUM – the Superconducting Ion Gantry with Riboni’s Unconventional Mechanics – was presented a few days after he left us to the international advisory committee set up by CERN, CNAO, INFN and MedAustron.
Pierluigi’s cultural background covered philosophy, politics, economics and architecture. His vast knowledge originated from both an unbound curiosity and a great interest in learning. He also had a passion for athletics, tennis and skiing, balancing his intellectual interests with his physical wellbeing. His life choices were characterised by an unbeatable optimism, which allowed him to maintain a positive attitude towards all professional and life challenges. He had a gentleman’s attitude in his relations with people, and he always encouraged and supported younger collaborators.
Pierluigi is among the best Italian engineers who have contributed to the successes of CERN. He will be missed by his family, friends and collaborators, but will always live in our memories.
His friends and colleagues
This obituary will be published in the May-June issue of the CERN Courier.