Dr. Zentilli obtained his Ph.D. from Queens University, and his B.Sc. from the University de Chile, Santiago. After working as exploration geologist for industry and regional geological mapping for the Geological Survey of Chile (now SERNAGEOMIN), Dr. Zentilli joined Dalhousie University in 1973 where he taught the geology of mineral deposits and carried out research on metallogeny, isotope geology and geochronology.
He developed the first Canadian low-temperature thermochronology laboratory using the apatite fission-track technique, and applied it to the Central Andes and Atlantic and Arctic Canada. He was Chair of Earth Sciences 1984-1986, and contributed to the Canadian Studies program in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences for several years. He directed more than 20 PhD and 20 MSc, and over 55 BSc (Honours) theses.
In 1985, Chilean and British volcanologists baptised Zentilli Volcano in the High Andes, in recognition of his earlier work in the area. He retired in 2005 and continues to be active as Professor Emeritus at Dalhousie University, and as international consultant for MZGeoscience Inc. In 2010 he was appointed Honorary Consul of Chile in Halifax by presidential decree from President Michelle Bachelet.
His research specializes on rock dating and isotope geochemistry applied to mineral resources, both metals and petroleum in North and South America.