Peter Smereka, professor of mathematics, died Sept. 15 after suffering an unexpected heart attack.
Considered one of the leading applied and computational mathematicians of his generation, Smereka worked on a wide variety of problems, ranging from fluid dynamics to materials science. His early work had great effect on problems in “bubbly liquid flow” and he was widely regarded as the leading authority on this subject.
His work on algorithms for multiphase flow — for example, for simulating the motion of two immiscible fluids and the surface that separates them — has been particularly influential. In that field, and more generally in the topic of interfacial motion, Smereka made fundamental contributions, and the algorithms he invented and helped develop are used in many branches of science and engineering.
Many of his more than 60 research articles and numerous conference proceedings have had tremendous impact, and some are considered classics in their respective fields.
In addition to being a leading authority in computational mathematics, applying his extensive knowledge of physics and engineering to mathematical modeling and computational simulation of physical problems, Smereka also excelled as an applied analyst, exploring the associated mathematical problems in great depth.
In 2009 he was part of a team that received a patent for “a method for designing aerosol spray dispensers.” During his career he supervised six Ph.D. students and acted as a co-adviser for many others.
Born in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, to Virginia and Edward Smereka, Peter Smereka was the first of four children. He attended Aurora High School in Aurora, Ontario, where he was class valedictorian. He participated actively in Ontario science fairs, winning the Canada science fair competition for three consecutive years.
Smereka received his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Waterloo, Canada, in 1983. He received his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1989.
After visiting the Courant Institute of Math at New York University, and the Institute for Mathematics and its Applications, Smereka joined the faculty of the Department of Mathematics at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1991 on a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellowship.
He came to the U-M Department of Mathematics in 1994 as an assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor in 1997 and professor in 2003. He also was active as a member of the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics.
Smereka was an early and integral member of the department’s Applied and Interdisciplinary Mathematics (AIM) program, providing an important link with the areas of engineering and the natural sciences. He served as director of the AIM program for several years.
He received a prestigious NSF Career Award in 1996, and an Excellence in Education Award from LSA in 1997. Smereka was one of the original developers and instructors of a new honors sequence for first-year science and engineering students. He served the department through numerous committee assignments, undergraduate counseling and research coordination.
Smereka was always inquisitive and provided a lot of humor, insight and thought-provoking questions for his family over the years. He was an incredibly sensitive and kind person often running to help his family members when in need.
He loved to surf, hike, listen to jazz and eat street food, and play games. He also enjoyed golfing and swimming, and loved watching Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart with his son, Aidan.
Smereka is survived by his wife, Brenda; son, Aidan; parents Ed and Virginia, sisters Karen and Susan, brother Robert and Aunt Joan, as well as many friends and colleagues from all over the world. He will be greatly missed by all.
A memorial gathering will be planned for the spring of 2016.
Memorial contributions can be made to the Peter Smereka Memorial Graduate Student Fund, c/o the U-M Department of Mathematics, 530 Church Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1043, or online at leadersandbest.umich.edu/tributes.
(The fund constitutes a gift for endowment, and distributions from it shall be made in accordance with the university’s then existing endowment distribution policy. Any surplus distributions during any period may be accumulated for later use for the above purposes or may be added to the principal of the fund, in the University’s discretion. If the university’s minimum threshold of $25,000 to establish an endowment is not met by Dec. 31, 2016, the endowment will be terminated and the funds will be used on an expendable basis for the stated purpose of the fund.)
— Submitted by the Smereka family and Department of Mathematics