Peter Alfeld, --- Department of Mathematics, --- College of Science --- University of Utah

Peter Alfeld



I grew up in Germany. In 1957 my parents escaped from what was then East Germany. It was easy in those days, before the Berlin Wall was built, but still, all they could take with them were five kids and a few suitcases. A local police officer had paid a strange visit on a Sunday morning, and my parents believe that visit was designed to tip them off that something was up. When we crossed the border, a few days later, we kids thought we were just visiting my grandmother, but I remember distinctly that my parents were extremely nervous. It seems that if a seven year old kid like myself could recognize that, then the guards were sure to recognize it also. But they let us go anyway. If they hadn't I would have probably ended up in Siberia which seems to be the Russian equivalent of Utah . But I like Utah!

In High School I was blessed to have a sequence of outstanding math teachers who generated and reinforced my interest in mathematics, and also taught me many things I still benefit from. After an 18 month stint in the German Air Force (as a teletypist - we worked in a tower where we could watch a small part of East Germany with binoculars) I went to the University of Hamburg for three years and then moved to Dundee in Scotland to do my graduate work. I wanted to go to the United Kingdom to learn English, to Scotland to enjoy the scenery, and to Dundee because at the time it was the premium place to study numerical analysis in the UK.

In Dundee fate struck and I met my sweet and beautiful wife of thirty-six years, Michelle, who grew up in the Bay Area in California. She went to Tübingen in Germany for two years, to do her Ph.D. (in Genetics), while I stayed in Dundee, to do mine (in mathematics). In those days I traveled a lot, visiting Michelle every two or three months, and we had some interesting language related experiences. For example, Michelle's friends in Germany didn't know I was German and often commented on my " remarkable command of German". One fellow said my German was "quite good, with hardly any accent". Our experience was also unusual in that we got married while we were living in two different countries, and almost a year before we had our first joint place. The University Chaplain in Dundee remarked gravely that "that is not a good way to start a marriage!".

After we both finished our graduate work we decided it was time for me to get to know Michelle's country. Otherwise I'd probably still be in Germany. The job (a postdoc at the University of Utah) brought us to Salt Lake City, and even though at the time we were planning to spend each year in a different country, we are still here! We have three beautiful and close to perfect children, Chris (33), Anna (30), and Scott (26). Chris got a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin (specializing in Logic, no less) and now works as the director of research for a software company. Anna is working on an M.S. in Library Science at Indiana University in Bloomington, and Scott is working towards a Ph.D. in Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin.

Before we came here we had only seen two pictures of Utah, one of the Bonneville Salt Flats, and one of State Street in Salt Lake City. But on our first day here we were sitting at a bus stop at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains and I kept staring at them, unable to believe my luck! I enjoy the mountains, hiking in them, and just looking at them, consciously, every day! Few places in the world rival the Utah outdoors. Salt Lake City is a great place to live and the Math Department here is a pleasant place to work. I can recommend us for graduate study in mathematics!

We live in an old house just a few minutes walk from my office. A recent appraisal has the word obsolete appear in various spots, but we like the place. Most houses close to the University have been divided into tiny apartments for students, and the original woodwork has been ripped out or painted over. Ours was never divided and the woodwork is still there. And we think of the campus as our backyard. It's very pleasant with plazas for biking or rollerskating, fountains, many different kinds of trees (the campus is also the State Arboretum), and scenic vistas all over the place.


[08-Feb-2013]

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