Memorial Webpage for
Prof. Mario Iona

Prof. Mario Iona was born in Berlin Germany in 1917 and earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Vienna in 1939.   Iona was at the University of Uppsala in Sweden for two years, then he immigrated to the USA and worked in the physics department at the University of Chicago during 1941-46.   From 1946 until his retirement forty years later, in 1986, Iona was a professor of physics at the University of Denver.   Prof. Iona died in February 2004.   There are three published obituaries for Prof. Iona:
  1. Herschel Neumann and Albert Bartlett, Physics Today, Vol. 57, pp. 93-94, Oct 2004.
  2. anonymous, The Physics Teacher, Vol. 42, p. 389, Oct 2004.
  3. Steven Iona, Sigma Pi Sigma Radiations, Spring 2004.   alternate URL

Prof. Iona did research in cosmic rays until 1982. Iona was devoted to teaching physics, and he wrote many papers that corrected common misconceptions about physics and explained proper use of units. Mario Iona is particularly remembered for his 24-year series of monthly columns in The Physics Teacher, titled "Would You Believe?". Each column exposed and discussed a blatant error found in a science textbook. The American Association of Physics Teachers gave their prestigious Millikan Award to Prof. Iona in 1986, for Iona's efforts to reform textbooks.

I knew Prof. Iona when I was an undergraduate student majoring in physics at the University of Denver during 1967-71. During 1968-71, I was an officer of the Society of Physics Students at the University of Denver, and Prof. Iona was the faculty advisor to the Society. During 1969-71, the Physics Department held a "Physics Day" on one Saturday to encourage high school pupils to major in physics, and again I worked with Prof. Iona, and other faculty, in planning those activities. Because of those extracurricular activities, I had more contact with Prof. Iona than most students at the University of Denver. Prof. Iona also taught two of the physics classes that I took. After my graduation from the University of Denver, I maintained a correspondence with Prof. Iona during 1972 as I examined some elementary school science textbooks published by Harper & Row for errors. When I received my 1977, Prof. Iona invited me to call him by his first name, but I still think of him as Prof. Iona, because of both his formality and my deep respect for him. His son's obituary for Prof. Iona also mentions his formality: "My father Mario was a rather stereotypic physics professor: to him 'Casual Friday' meant wearing a lab coat rather than a suit coat."

My overall impression of Prof. Iona was that he exemplified absolute integrity. Unlike most people, he didn't argue to win personally, his only interest was in arriving at the best answer to a question or the clearest explanation of a phenomena. Of course, with his knowledge and experience, he was likely to prevail! In that way, he personified the scientist portrayed in fiction who is selflessly engaged in a pursuit of the Truth. In my life I have met only one other person with that same quality of total commitment to getting the best or clearest explanation, without any consideration of either ego or rank or personally winning, which makes Prof. Iona's qualities very rare indeed. It is no exaggeration to say that in my ten years as a full-time physics major, Prof. Iona was one of three professors who made the greatest impression on me as a positive role model for how a professor and scientist should behave.

Many of the physicists who I have known preferred to work alone and were uncomfortable in large groups of people, and even uncomfortable in groups of physicists. In contrast, Prof. Iona enjoyed arranging meetings of physics teachers (e.g., the Colorado-Wyoming section of the American Association of Physics Teachers) and advising physics student organizations (e.g., the Society of Physics Students and the Sigma Pi Sigma honor society). Iona personally donated money in 2000 for a student lounge at the University of Denver Physics Department office.

Aside from his influence on his former students, he is likely to be best remembered for his "Would You Believe" columns. Mario Iona did something extraordinary: he really cared about teaching and he did something really significant about errors in elementary school textbooks and undergraduate physics textbooks. Anyone who reads his "Would You Believe" columns will see his dedication to getting explanations precisely correct, and his horror at the sloppiness of major textbook publishers.

Because all of Prof. Iona's work was during the pre-Internet era, he had no website. By posting this memorial page at my website, I hope to continue the memory of Prof. Iona.

Copyright 2008 by Ronald B. Standler

This document is at
created 11 April 2004, modified 22 Jan 2008