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Nicola Ricci
(1947- 2000)

Memorium: Nicola Ricci | Frontier Connections

I am very happy to transfer the custody of this medal to Nicola Ricci, and I believe that Tracy Sonneborn would be happy too, and Herbert Spencer Jennings, and Emile Maupas,. and who knows how many other explorers of the frontiers...

D.L. Nanney, Pisa, 1994 in Frontier Connections

In Memorium: Nicola Ricci (1947-2000)

Our beloved and highly respected colleague in ciliatology, Nicola Ricci, passed away in Pisa on 28 October, 2000, of a brain hemorrhage. For the preceding eight months he had been suffering from a poorly understood auto-immune disease, which dramatically consumed his body but not his keen mind and bright spirit. Just a few days before his premature demise, he was talking with his students who were completing their thesis dissertations, and with his co-workers who were preparing other papers on ciliate behavior, his favorite subject of study. Ricci will be long remembered for his innovative descriptions and analyses of the behavior of microscopic organisms. The enthusiastic and artistic public presentations of his ideas will not be soon forgotten.

Nicola Ricci graduated in Natural Sciences at the University of Pisa in 1970. He became an Assistant Professor in 1974, and an Associate Professor in 1980. At the time of his death, he had just been elevated to the full Professorship made vacant earlier by the death of his mentor, Renzo Nobili. Italy, and ciliatology, have thus been deprived of the critical leadership of two outstanding scholars in a very short period of time. Though Ricci had the honor and satisfaction of occupying briefly the professorship at Pisa, his untimely passing cut short his distinguished and productive career.

Ricci's research interests reached back to the beginnings of ciliate studies, particularly those of H. S. Jennings a century earlier. But his studies were conducted with characteristically innovative techniques to describe and quantify the behavior of microorganisms in ways that would permit them to be compared and interpreted in an ecological context. His imaginative efforts, in effect created a new interdisciplinary microbial discipline that comprehended ethology, ecology, evolution, and even philosophy. Though Ricci was trained in Nobili's laboratory, and held a post-doctoral appointment in 1978 at Illinois with David Nanney, and though he interacted strongly with co-workers in several disciplines, he was the epitome of an autonomous scholar. He asked his own questions, found his own, sometimes unexpected answers, and presented his interpretations with flair and artistry.

Ricci's personal qualities, his high ethical standards, his artistic temperament, his sense of humor and sheer joy of living, kept him in strong rewarding relationships with his students,
collaborators, and family. We are especially mindful of the loss to his wife Letitia and their three children—Marta, Pietro, and Marco.

Nicola was a prodigious and highly interactive worker. Over the years he hosted, collaborated with, and published with, several visiting scholars in his Pisa laboratory of ethoprotozoology. These included H. M. Seyfert, P. Kovacs, F. Oliveira-Pinto, W. Lueken, and T. Krueppel. Ricci was the sole or principal author of some four dozen major papers. His detailed reports of experimental finds were set forth in more than 200 original publications. The scope of these refereed reports was broad, ranging from the mating reactions of his beloved Oxytricha to the ethoecology of diverse ciliates, a fascinating topic in which he was strongly engaged. The theoretical consequences of Ricci's studies were just beginning to emerge when his work came to an unexpected end, but a comprehensive biology of mesoorganisms will eventually emerge from Ricci's pioneering work.

Ricci's wide personal and professional interests kept him active in several professional associations beyond those dedicated to protozoa. These included the Italian Zoological Union, the Association of Theoretical Biology and the CISSC—the Inter-university Centre for the Study of Complex Systems.

Nicola Ricci gladly accepted the increasingly difficult challenge in the university both to nurture his students and to advance human understanding. He was a master teacher who cheerfully carried an extraordinary teaching load, with ever-refreshed enthusiasm, constantly renewing and improving his Zoology courses, feeding ever upon the enthusiastic responses of appreciative classes. The expositions in his scholarly and thoughtful textbook in protozoology are a gift to later generations. Some sixty graduate students will especially remember Ricci's commitment to learning, to precision, and clarity, and they will not forget the excitement of the shared exploration of the unknown.

Elements of Ricci's Curriculum Vitae: Graduate in Natural Sciences (Pisa) 1970. Military service (1971-72). Assistant Professor (Pisa) 1974-80. Associate Professor (1980-2000). Professor, October 1st, 2000. Instructor at the Somalian University, Mogadiscio, 1976. Visiting Scientist, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 1977-1978. Member Italian Union of Zoologists, Italian Society of Protozoologists, Italian Society of Ethologists, International Society of Protozoologists.

Editorial services: Canadian Journal of Zoology, Acta Protozoologica, European Journal of Protistology, Journal of Eu-karyotic Microbiology, Animal Behaviour, Journal of Comparative Physiology, Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology.

Invited Lectures
at International Conferences and Universities: V International Congress of Protozoology, New York, 1977. VII European Conference on Ciliate Biology, Toledo,
1991. II International Conference on Protozoan Ecology, Ti-hany, 1991. I European Congress of Protozoology, Reading, 1992. Ill International Congress of Neuroethology, Montreal, 1992. IV Asian Conference on Ciliate Biology, Schenzhen, 1992. II European Congress of Protozoology, Clermont-Ferrand, 1995. IV Asian Conference on Ciliate Biology, Waseda, 1995. Chaired sessions at International Conference on Protozoan Ecology, Tihany, 1991, International Congress Protozoology, Berlin, 1993 (Round Table on Motility and Behavior). Gave lectures at Osnabrueck, Germany 1989, Budapest, Hungary, 1994.

Book Chapters: Sexual Interactions in Eukaryotic Microbes. Morgan & O'Day, ed. Academic Press, New York, 1981. Ciliates: Cells as Organisms. Hausmann, ed., Gustav Fischer Ver-lag, Stuttgart, 1995. Pollution and Biomonitoring. Rana, ed. McGraw-Hill, New York, 1995. "Protozoa", in Zoologia, Zanichelli, Italy, 1993. "Protozoi", in Lineament! di Zoologia, Zanichelli, Italy, 1994.

Reviews: "The behavior of ciliated protozoa". Animal Behavior, 1990. "The peculiar case of the giants of Oxytricha bifaria: A paradigmatic example of cell differentiation and adaptive strategy". Zoological Science, 1993. "Verhaltensstudien an Ciliaten. 1. Vom Unterschied biologischer und organ-ismischer Sichtweisen". 2. "Dokumentieren, Quantifizieren, Interpretieren". Microkosmos, 1994

ROSALBA BANCHETTI*, FABRIZIO ERRA*, FERNANDO DINI* and DAVID NANNEY**. *Dipartimento di Etologia, Ecologia ed Evoluzione, Universita di Pisa, 56126 Pisa, Italy, and **Ecology, Ethology and Evolution, 515 Morril Hall, 505 S. Goodwin, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801, USA.

Rude Beginnings:
I had been taken as an infant to live in the then new state of Oklahoma. This area in the middle of the North American continent was flat and sparsely inhabited. Oklahoma Territory was of little interest to the "Americans", i.e., the descendants of the European invaders of America. It was set aside as a territorial prison for native Americans who had been removed from their lands in the east. The discovery of large oil deposits early in this century changed all that. The area was quickly opened to settlement by white Americans, the native Americans were directly or indirectly disposessed of their lands again, and the state of Oklahoma was organized in 1908'.
The city in Oklahoma to which I was taken in 1926 was called Wewoka, and the home to which I was taken was on Mekusuky Street. Wewoka - Barking Waters in the Seminole language - had been the capital of the "Seminole Nation". Those Seminoles who had not escaped into the Florida Everglades when the tribe was forcibly removed from their lands in the east had come to rest in what was subsequently Seminole County. The Indians were no longer much in evidence, though their drums could sometimes be heard in the summer evenings.
The landscape of this region had been transformed in the 1920s from prairie grasslands and wooded hills to a forest of miniature Eiffel Towers from which wells were being drilled into the earth. The night sky was illuminated by torches that burned the excess natural gas from the punctured underground reservoirs. Other signs of civilization were minimal. The nearly new wooden houses called forth no memory of times past or ancient civilizations. Oklahoma was a frontier land looking to the west and to the future, not eastward nor to the past.
I evoke the geographical frontier of my childhood as a kind of metaphor of my professional career. Living on a frontier influences one's perspectives in both obvious and in more subtle ways. The social historian Frederick Jackson Turner (1920) attributes much of the "American character" to the experiences of the European colonists moving across the continent. That thesis has come to be challenged, but it has considerable appeal. The frontier experience is transient and not something that can be continued indefinitely, however, in the life of an individual, of a nation, or of humanity. At least the geographical frontier - though it has existed and has shaped values throughout human history - is coming to an end. The scientific statesman, Vannevar Bush, saw in the frontier an experience that needed to be continued for its effect on human values, and he spoke of Science as the Endless Frontier. Geographic frontiers may come to an end, but human ignorance is boundless.
The journey from Wewoka, Oklahoma in 1926 to Pisa in 1994 took place in several stages. Though Wewoka was a frontier city, it was not without some cultural pretentious. Most of the influences to which I was exposed, however, were in the humanities. My father was a protestant minister and had attended college for a couple of years, though he lacked the discipline to complete a degree. He was considered something of an eclectic scholar, and actually wrote some books. He was fascinated by history, and was also something of a sucker for the book salesmen who wandered the plains during the "dust bowl" days of the early '30's selling sets of histories, encyclopedias, and collected works of major authors. I read widely from his personal library as well as in the newly developed public library. History, however, was for me an alternate and indeed a lesser fiction. The names and places and events had no way of becoming real within my frame of experience. It is no wonder that I went into a profound culture shock when I first set foot in Europe - in 1957, and was taken immediately to Chartres Cathedral. I think I would have perished had I gone directly to Rome or Athens.
Toulmin and Goodfield (1965) characterize the cultural transition associated with Charles Darwin as The Discovery of Time, the general recognition of the indefinite extension of time, both forward and backward. That realization has had profound consequences for our understanding of our place in the universe and for the formulation of our value systems. As with many fundamental insights into the human condition, we must each make our way through the understanding personally, in a recapitulation of our cultural history. Although I believe that each of us has made that transition, I suspect that I have had more developmental difficulty than those of you who have grown up in sight of the Tuscan hills, in the shadow of ancient heroes.
My first intellectual challenge was an introduction to Latin, in the ninth grade. I was sufficiently intrigued to work hard and was cho'sen to represent my school in state scholastic contests for two years. Foreign languages were like history to me, however, meaningless exercises of no practical utility. I was unable to sustain interest for very long, probably because I had no early examples such as one provided for me by an Italian - at a genetics conference on Lake Como in the early '60s. Professor Barigozzi welcomed the guests as they arrived, in Italian and French, in German and English, yes and in American. In any case, despite substantial effort, I only achieved third place in the contests, and abandoned languages as a lost cause. My introduction to classical civilization stopped before it was well started.
For my undergraduate education I went to a nearby church school in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where the Potawatamie Indians had been assigned lands. I took courses in any subject that looked interesting. I changed majors nearly every semester in a search for a subject to my liking. The only firm decision I was able to make as I approached graduation was that I would like the easy life of a college professor. I decided to major in literature, because I liked to read and because the most interesting teachers at Oklahoma Baptist University were the teachers of English. OBU seemed less a launching pad for an academic career than an escape hatch from the southwest.
(D. L. Nanney, 1997. Frontier Connections. Rev. Soc. Mex. Hist. Nat. 47:201-216) I have recently had the opportunity to review the research contributions of Nicola Ricci (1990), and I was truly astonished at the progress he has made in what must have been initially a lonely exploration of a seldom visited frontier. His characterization of behavior patterns of ciliated protozoa begins where Jennings' studies started at Jena nearly 100 years ago, but he has added to that description a formal mode of analysis - the ethogram - which enables him to make rigorous quantitative comparisons of the behavior of different species.
The ethogramic comparisons open up an understanding of the biology of ciliates to fundamental dimensions concerning which we have been largely clueless up to this time. One concerns the diverse but remarkably conservative morphotypes of individual species that had been to this point without a functional explanation. Another provides a rationale for the way different ciliate species exploit a common environment.
Though this is clearly frontier stuff, one can scarcely doubt that the territory explored will soon become more densely populated as we begin to deal with the critical role played by mesoorganisms - those organisms intermediate in size between microbes and multicellular creatures - that occupy the critical ecological interfaces in our overburdened environment.
I am very happy to transfer the custody of this medal to Nicola Ricci, and I believe that Tracy Sonneborn would be happy too, and Herbert Spencer Jennings, and Emile Maupas,. and who knows how many other explorers of the frontiers.