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Emanuele DiBenedetto (1947-2021)

Emanuele DiBenedetto, a retired mathematics professor who made significant contributions to the understanding of partial differential equations, died on May 11 after a 15-month struggle with cancer.

DiBenedetto, who was appointed Centennial Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, in 2020, was 74 years old.

He was born in Lentini, Sicily, on April 4, 1947 to Nunzio DiBenedetto and Elvira Papalino. DiBenedetto graduated in 1966 from Liceo Cutelli di Catania and credited his classical education with a lifelong love of classical culture.

After spending a few years traveling and working in France and Germany, DiBenedetto enrolled at the University of Florence. His research career blossomed under the guidance of Professor Carlo Pucci, who encouraged DiBenedetto to apply to the doctoral program at the University of Texas at Austin. While in Florence, DiBenedetto had met an American student, Heidi Hamm, who would become his lifelong companion and wife. After graduation, they both enrolled at UT-Austin, where she was accepted into the graduate program in biological sciences.

As a doctoral student, DiBenedetto developed a whole set of tools to shed light on open problems in the theory of both elliptic and parabolic equations. He earned a doctor of philosophy in 1979 and received a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin-Madison prior to faculty appointments at Indiana and Northwestern universities.

DiBenedetto was recruited to Vanderbilt in 2000 as Centennial Professor of Mathematics. He also was appointed professor of molecular physiology and biophysics in 2001. His teaching and research at Vanderbilt focused on the study of partial differential equations, particularly the elliptic and parabolic ones. One of his most significant contributions to the theory of parabolic partial differential equations is called “intrinsic scaling,” a new way to look at the regularity properties of parabolic equations, which he developed with several collaborators. He also had research interests in the area of mathematical biology.

DiBenedetto was a prolific writer, authoring more than 120 papers and six books, two of which have been translated into Chinese. DiBenedetto was also awarded a U.S. patent, an unusual distinction for a mathematician.

DiBenedetto was always very generous in sharing ideas, comments, conjectures and possible counterexamples with his colleagues. He was a mentor to more than five graduate students and fifteen postdoctoral fellows, who have gone on to work across various branches of pure and applied mathematics.

DiBenedetto served as editor-in-chief of the Journal on Mathematical Analysis of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. In addition, he was on more than twenty editorial boards and gave numerous invited talks.

His service to Vanderbilt included terms on the Graduate Faculty Council and the Faculty Council of the College of Arts.

DiBenedetto is survived by his wife of 47 years, Heidi Hamm, Emeritus Chair of Pharmacology and professor of pharmacology and Aileen M. Lange and Annie Mary Lyle Chair in Cardiovascular Research. Other survivors include his sister, Enza DiBenedetto; brother, Aldo Benedetto; and mother, Elvira Papalino.