In memoriam Roland Engfer, December 5, 1934 - October 18, 2021

Roland Engfer

Roland Engfer, Professor Emeritus for Experimental Physics at the University of Zurich, has died on October 18th at the age of 86 years

Roland Engfer was a Professor of Experimental Physics at the Physics Institute of the University of Zurich from 1975 until his retirement in 2001.

Roland Engfer studied and habilitated at the Technical University of Darmstadt under Professor Peter Brix. At that time, his research interest was in muonic atoms. These are exotic atoms with a negatively charged muon, forming a hydrogen-like system with the nucleus. Spectroscopy of exotic atoms teaches us how charges and magnetic moments are distributed in the atomic nucleus. He then worked as a researcher at CERN in Geneva and at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI, formerly the Swiss Institute for Nuclear Research SIN), as well as a lecturer at ETH Zurich. In 1975, Roland Engfer was appointed full professor of experimental physics at the University of Zurich as a successor of Hans H. Staub.

His research group in Zurich performed experiments at the Paul Scherrer Institute. The group first focused on particle emission following negative pion capture in nuclei but soon moved on to study rare and forbidden muon decays as a leading member of the SINDRUM I and II collaborations. Many new endevours are ongoing, not only at PSI, but most of the observed limits on lepton flavour number violation still stand. Roland Engfer thus became an internationally well regarded expert on exotic atoms and was a member of many international research commissions.

For many years Roland Engfer enthusiastically taught classical and modern physics to university students. As a stimulating lecturer, he inspired the students with his exciting lectures and original experiments. In doing so, he succeeded in conveying to the audience his fascination for the exploration of fundamental physics questions. Roland Engfer was a passionate cyclist, he rode his bike to the Irchel Campus every day, demonstrated biomechanics on the lecture hall stairs with his mountain bike and successfully fought for more bike stands as chairman of the University of Zurich Operations Committee. Also his experience as a mountaineer directly entered into his lessons; while rappelling in the lecture hall, friction, energy conservation and heat generation could be explained very vividly.

Roland Engfer was director of the Physics Institute of the University of Zurich from 1993 to 1999.

The University of Zurich, colleagues and former students lose in Roland Engfer an inspiring person and teacher to whom they owe much.

Katharina Müller