Erwin Kleinfeld

February 17, 2022 - 12:00am
University of Iowa

The Department of Mathematics is saddened to announce the passing of University of Iowa Mathematics Professor Emeritus Erwin Kleinfeld, on January 14, 2022. He was 93 years old.

Early life.

Born to Jewish parents, Erwin Kleinfeld lived in Austria until age 11, when he emigrated to the United States with his family, after having had to depart Europe to escape the Nazi persecutions in the late 30’s. They settled in New York City, where he eventually proved great early mathematical talent in school and went on to get a degree from the City College of New York (currently part of CUNY).

Work and Impact.

Erwin Kleinfeld decided to pursue a career in mathematics and was granted a PhD from the University of Wisconsin in 1951. Subsequently he held lecturer positions University of Chicago and Yale University, and, prior to arriving at the University of Iowa as Professor in 1968, he held professor positions at Ohio State University and Syracuse University.

His career rapidly took off due to fundamental contributions in algebra, and more specifically in non-associative algebras, in the 50’s and early 1960’s. His work on alternative rings, and later Jordan algebras was featured at several ICM’s (ICM=International Congress of Mathematicians, the main event in the world of mathematics held once every four years), and was essential in many subsequent landmark contributions by top mathematicians such as M. Artin, N. Jacobson, M. Zorn, and of Fields Medalist Efim Zelmanov, and lead to later work related to that of Fields Medalist Sergei Novikov. His contributions gained Professor Kleinfeld international recognition, and he has been invited to many prestigious conferences, as well as a Visiting Professor and Lecturer all over the world, including Australia, Asia and Europe. Over his career, he advised ten PhD students, who became professors and leaders at prestigious institutions. Erwin Kleinfeld and his wife, Margaret Kleinfeld, were both mathematics professors at the University of Iowa until their retirement in 2002, and had important contributions to the department as well, helping recruit several outstanding faculty.

University of Iowa Kleinfeld endowment

In 2017, together with his wife, and shortly after her death, the Kleinfelds made the single largest donation to the Department of Mathematics in its entire history. The very generous donation, followed by an additional endowment from the Kleinfeld estate, created the Kleinfeld fellowship as well as several other awards for graduate students in mathematics, and it is and will be used to attract future generations of outstanding PhD students. They have already impacted a large number of our graduate students (list below).

Erwin Kleinfeld was an outstanding mathematician and dedicated faculty of the University of Iowa, as well as dedicated member of the Iowa City Community. His scientific work has made a profound impact and gained international recognition, and his impact on mathematics as well as the Department and University will have a lasting effect on generations to come of PhD students. He will be missed by us all.


List awards funded by the Kleinfeld endowment

Kleinfeld recruitment fellowships

2019-2020 Fatou Ndow
Summer 2020 Biao Ma
2020-2021 Adriana Fernandez I Quero
2021-2022 Juan Felipe Ariza Mejia, Jacob Van Grinsven , Shashank Singh


Paper awards

Elaina Aceves
Jose Roman Aranda Cuevas
Mohamed Bakhira
Biao Ma
Nitesh Mathur
Amrei Oswald
Puttipong Pongtanapasisan
Shaikh Gohin Samad
Shrey Sanadhya


Qual Exams PhD with distinction for Incoming students’ qual exams:

August 2019: Nitesh Mathur, Hoang-An Andy Nguyen
August 2020: Yilin Zhu, Jinyang Wu
August 2021: Juan Felipe Ariza Mejia, Adriana Fernandez I Quero, Nikita Kapur, Jacob Van Grinsven


Travel fund conferences (fee conf online and/or membership student fee):

Fatou Ndow, Kerry Tarrant, Samantha Warren, Ying Liu