This article has been updated with comments from colleagues.
Mathematics Prof. Peter Smereka died unexpectedly Sept. 15 following a heart attack.
Smereka began working at the University in 1994 as an assistant professor of mathematics. He was promoted to a full professorship in 2003. Smereka obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Waterloo, Canada, in 1983 and a Ph.D. doctorate in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989.
During his time at the University, Smereka was a member of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics. He was also a part of the math department's Applied and Interdisciplinary Mathematics program, which he directed for several years. He also helped develop and instruct an honors program for freshman science and engineering students.
While in Ann Arbor, Smereka was awarded the National Science Foundation Career Award in 1996 and the Excellence in Education Award from LSA in 1997.
In an obituary submitted by the Smereka family and the math department, family and colleagues described him as funny and insightful.
“Smereka was always inquisitive and provided a lot of humor, insight and thought-provoking questions for his family over the years,” they wrote. “He was an incredibly sensitive and kind person often running to help his family members when in need.”
Smereka published more than 60 research articles throughout his lifetime. His work in fluid dynamics — the science behind liquids and gases in motion — was influential.
In an e-mail Thursday, Complex Systems Prof. Charles Doering, who met Smereka almost thirty years ago during an advanced summer school on nonlinear science, remembered him as a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher. He also lauded Smereka's contributions to starting the University's doctoral program in Interdiscplinary and Applied Mathematics, as well as his research.
“Peter had a delightfully mischievous character that made him a wonderful colleague,” Doering wrote. “He was never one to shy away challenging the conventional wisdom and asking (the hard) questions. This served him and his students — and his more senior collaborators — very well, helping to open minds to new ideas and generate creative new approaches to both technical and conceptual problems.”
Statistics Lecturer Brenda Gunderson wrote in an e-mail interview Thursday that she first met Smereka as a neighbor over 15 years ago.
“He had a connection and impact on my son Lee's life at UM,” Gunderson wrote. “Lee studied Nuclear Engineering and Math and worked on an REU project with Professor Smereka in the summer of 2009. Peter continued to support and engage in great conversations with Lee even after graduating. Peter was a nice, soft spoken man. He will be missed in many ways around UM, and I will miss seeing him around our neighborhood.”
Condolences from faculty members filled the comments section of the obituary posted on the website for the University Record, the University publication for faculty and staff.
“Peter was a dearest friend and my best colleague,” wrote Giovanni Russo, a mathematics professor at the University of Catania in Italy. “To work with him has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life. Very dedicated to science, with an extraordinary good taste for interesting problems, he was an extremely sensitive, scrupulous and kind man with highest intellectual honesty. I always admired him, and I will miss him forever.”
A memorial will be held for Smereka in the spring. Memorial contributions can be made to the Peter Smereka Memorial Graduate Student Fund.