Dean Peter Trapa

University of Utah Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Dan Reed announced that Peter Trapa has accepted an offer to serve as the next dean of the College of Science.

Trapa is currently chair of the university’s Department of Physics & Astronomy and previously served as the chair of the Department of Mathematics and special assistant to the dean of the College of Science. Trapa also was the inaugural presidential fellow in 2016-17 under former U President David Pershing. He was named a fellow of the American Mathematical Society in 2019.

“Trapa is regarded as an excellent and innovative administrator, a strong advocate for students, staff and faculty, and an outstanding scholar,” Reed said. “He is a great communicator who is able to develop consensus and cultivate a positive culture. His deep understanding of the university and the state will serve the College of Science well as it continues to rise among its peers.”

The College of Science consists of three departments—chemistry, mathematics and physics and astronomy—and the School of Biological Sciences. It also includes several interdisciplinary centers. It has annual research expenditures of approximately $40 million.

Following completion of the appointment approval process, Trapa will assume his position on July 1, 2019.

“I'm honored to be named the next dean of the College of Science,” Trapa said. “It's an exciting time for the college, and I look forward to working to advance its world-class research reputation and further propel its central educational mission both within the university and the state of Utah.”

Trapa joined the U’s Department of Mathematics in 2001; he was named chair of the department in 2011, serving in that position until 2017. He served as special assistant to Henry White, current dean of the College of Science, in 2017-2018.

He has served as chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy since 2018, where he has overseen development of a model graduate program, reorganized departmental leadership and staff and implemented a strategy to recruit exceptional and diverse faculty.

Trapa also has played a key role in state-level discussions about math courses, requirements, assessments and the need for strong high school curriculums that prepare students for college course work. He served on the state’s Math Task Force, the Standards Review Steering Committee and as a director and member of the National Association of Math Circles, among others service work.

Trapa’s main research interest is representation theory, a kind of mathematical quantification of the symmetries that arise in physical theories. He has published extensively, and has contributed to solutions of the most outstanding problems in his discipline. Trapa is currently managing editor of the American Mathematical Society’s journal Representation Theory.

Trapa received undergraduate degrees in mathematics and integrated science from Northwestern University and a doctoral degree in mathematics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did postdoctoral work at Harvard University and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton before joining the U.

AMS Fellow

“I was delighted to learn the news from the AMS,” said Trapa, professor and former chair of the Mathematics Department and currently chair of the Physics & Astronomy Department. “I’m grateful to be recognized in this way.”

Trapa has always been fascinated by mathematics, but his interests drifted as an undergraduate at Northwestern University, first to chemistry, then to physics, before finally returning to mathematics. “I realized that the common thread that I enjoyed most about the basic sciences was the underlying math.” Trapa also credits two a couple of math professors—Michael Stein, emeritus professor, and the late Mark Pinsky—who took him under their wing and “really changed the trajectory of my career.”

After a brief stint doing statistical analysis for the Ford Motor Company, Trapa headed to MIT for his Ph.D. “My time at Ford was a lot of fun, but not for the reasons that my bosses would have liked,” Trapa said, adding that the company had a decent mathematics library where he spent most of his time. At MIT, Trapa studied representation theory with David Vogan, Norbert Wiener Professor of Mathematics. Vogan later became a close friend and collaborator. “Working with David has been one of the great honors of my life. I’m constantly learning from him how to be a better mathematician.”

Trapa held postdoctoral appointments at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and at Harvard before joining the faculty at the U in 2001. His most important contributions involve classifying the kinds of symmetry that can appear in physical and mathematical problems, so-called unitary representations of reductive Lie groups. “In the past few years, there have been some beautiful and unexpected developments in the subject that lead in many new directions,” Trapa said. His work in this area has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation, the National Security Agency, and the Simons Foundation. Since 2015, Trapa has served as managing editor for the AMS journal Representation Theory.

Outside of his research, Trapa enjoys working with talented students of mathematics. He helped found the Utah Math Circle for high school students, served as its director for many years, and still lectures regularly in it. “The kind of math that students learn in school is often very different from the experience of actually doing mathematics,” Trapa said. “I think it’s important to give young kids a taste of what mathematics is all about.”