Laurie E. McNeil
Photo courtesy of Steve Exum and Endeavors magazine
I am the Bernard Gray Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and
Astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. During 2004-2009 I
served as Chair of the Physics and Astronomy Department, and I formerly was the department's Assistant Chair for Advancement. I also served as Interim Chair of
the Curriculum in Applied and Materials Sciences (which has now become the Department of Applied Physical Sciences) during academic year 2007/08, and earlier held the post of the Curriculum's Director of Graduate Studies. From October 2000 to April 2003 I
served as Chair of the revision of the general education curriculum for all undergraduates in the University. That curriculum was implementated beginning with students entering in Fall 2006. A subsequent revision of the curriculum is currently being implemented. During Fall 2004 I held a Chapman Family Faculty Fellowship,
and produced a plan for the transformation of introductory physics teaching at UNC.
We have implemented that plan in the calculus-based sequence with the assistance of a grant from NSF. With additional support from NSF we have completed a similar transformation of the introductory sequence for life sciences majors; you may wish to read our account of the transformed course.
As a result of those changes (inter alia) in 2020 my department was given an Award for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education by the Committee on Education of the American Physical Society.
In 2007-09 I served as a WOWS (Working on Women in Science) Scholar to enhance the representation and
success of women in the sciences at UNC-CH. I was also instrumental in establishing UNC-BEST (UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching), a
joint program between the College of Arts & Sciences and the School of Education to prepare science majors to become high school science teachers.
I have been on the faculty of
The University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill since 1984. I am a condensed matter/materials physicist, specializing in optical
semiconductors and insulators. I have been elected a Fellow
of the American Physical Society. During the period 1996-1999 I had the honor of holding a
Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship,
for "excellence in inspirational teaching of undergraduate students." I was selected for the permanent Bernard Gray Distinguished
Professorship from among those UNC-CH faculty members who have held a Bowman and Gordon Gray Term Professorship. A feature on me was
included in an article about the BGG Professorships that appeared in the Fall 2010
issue of the Arts & Sciences Magazine. During 2019-2021 I am serving as a Sigma Xi
Distinguished Lecturer, giving talks about organic semiconductors, women in science, and the physics of music to Sigma Xi
chapters at colleges and universities across the country.
In November 2000 I visited
Tufts University as the Kathryn A. McCarthy Lecturer in Physics.
I was the first recipient of this lectureship, which honors a pioneering female physicist who also served as
Provost of Tufts. In 2007 I was similarly honored as the inaugural presenter of the Dorothy K. Daspit Lecture at the H. Sophie
Newcomb Memorial College Institute at Tulane University. In April 2004 I was one of three people invited by the AAAS to speak at a conference in Buenos Aires
(Argentina) as part of their Lecture Series on Women in Science and Engineering. In 2009 I received the Mary
Turner Lane Award from the UNC-CH Association of Women Faculty and Professionals for outstanding contributions to the lives of women at Carolina.
In 2010 I was similarly honored with a University Award for the Advancement of Women. In 2011
I was recognized by the UNC-CH College of Arts & Sciences with the William F.
Little Distinguished Service Award. This award is in memory of Bill Little, former Chair of the UNC Chemistry Department and tireless servant of the university.
In 2019 I received the George B. Pegram Award for "Excellence in Physics Education in the Southeast," awarded by
the Southeastern Section of the American Physical Society. In 2021 APS named me a Five Sigma Physicist for
having "exhibited outstanding advocacy work in addressing science policy issues."
If you want to see what I look like in other settings, click
An article appeared in the Winter 2003 issue of
Endeavors magazine (published by the
UNC-CH Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies) in which I was quoted extensively on the
subject of women in science. In March 2002 I was a member of the U.S. delegation to the IUPAP Conference on Women
in Physics, and a few pictures from that conference can be seen
I can be reached at:
If you want to learn about my professional training and experience, please consult
In Fall 2021 I will teach my First-Year Seminar The Interplay of Music and Physics with Prof. Brent Wissick of the Music Department.
We have been teaching this course together for over 20 years. In Spring 2020 I launched a new first-year seminar called How Do We See? with Prof. Maggie Cao of the
Department of Art and Art History. It covers optics and vision, color, and the depiction of three-dimensional objects in two-dimensional art forms. We plan to teach it again in Spring 2023, after Prof. Cao completes a year-long
fellowship at the National Humanities Center.
My current research activities
at UNC-CH are focused on optical studies of materials.
- Professional Activities
In addition to my university duties, I am active in the
American Physical Society (APS). I served four years in the Chair line of the APS Forum on Education, and currently represent that unit on the APS Councli of Representatives. A few years ago I served as co-Chair of the Joint Task Force on Undergraduate Physics Programs (J-TUPP), a joint effort of APS and the American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) focused on career preparation for undergraduate physics majors (you may wish to read the report of the task force). I also am a member of the Operations Resource Group of the Statistical Research Center of the American Institute of Physics (AIP). I am a Deputy Editor at the Journal of Applied Physics (published by AIP Publishing). I have served as Chair of the Southeastern Section of the APS (SESAPS)
and have been a member of the APS Physics Policy Committee. I served on the Executive Committee of the
Division of Condensed Matter Physics from 2001-2004, and had the same role in SESAPS in 1994-97. I was a
member of the National Task Force on Undergraduate Physics,
which was a joint effort of the APS, the AAPT, and the AIP that produced the SPIN-UP report in 2003. I was the Chair of APS's
Committee on the Status of Women in Physics in 1997. I
participate in the APS/AAPT Site Visit project to study ways to improve the climate for women in physics
Together with Marc Sher (College of William
and Mary), I have conducted a survey of dual-science-career couples and the difficulties they face in finding two
jobs in the same place. The report of that survey also
includes suggested solutions to the problem. A summary appeared in the February 1999 issue of
APS News, and we published an article in the July
1999 issue of Physics Today.
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Phillips Hall CB #3255
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3255 USA
You may send me
e-mail at email@example.com
Last update: May 9, 2021