Memorial Webpage for
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:
Prof. Mario Iona
- Herschel Neumann and Albert Bartlett, Physics Today, Vol. 57, pp. 93-94, Oct 2004.
- anonymous, The Physics Teacher, Vol. 42, p. 389, Oct 2004.
- Steven Iona, Sigma Pi Sigma
Radiations, Spring 2004.
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
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 Ph.D.in 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
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