RENCI People Interview with Laurie E. McNeil

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Watch entire video or click on any question below:

Q: You have had many roles in your professional life, including condensed matter/materials physicist, teacher, department chair, and advocate for women in the sciences. Briefly describe your career path.

Q: Did you have any mentors who helped you or motivated you over the years?

Q: Do you believe women face additional or different challenges in building successful science careers?

Q: As chair of the UNC department of physics and astronomy you pushed for interactivity with students as a more effective way to teaching introductory-level physics. Why is this a better approach for science education?

Q: You were instrumental in establishing UNC-BEST, a program to prepare science majors to teach high school science. Why is it important that the U.S. focus on K-12 science education?

Q: In 1998, you helped create a unique course at UNC called The Interplay of Music and Physics. Describe the goals of this class and the value of having scientists and artists work together.

Q: Your research focuses on the optical properties of organic semiconductors. In layman’s terms, what are the goals of your research and what are its larger implications?

Q: Do you have any advice for young women who are just starting out in a scientific field?


Laurie E. McNeil is a professor of physics and astronomy and of applied sciences and engineering at UNC-Chapel Hill.  She served as chair of the physics and astronomy department from 2004 – 2009 and was also the department’s assistant chair for advancement. In 2007-2008, she served as the interim chair of the initiative now called the Curriculum in Applied Sciences and Engineering, a program designed to foster cutting- edge interdisciplinary research in the sciences.

McNeil also chaired the group that revised the undergraduate general education curriculum at UNC-Chapel Hill (2000 – 2003) and in 2004 developed a plan to transform introductory physics teaching, which was implemented with a grant from the National Science Foundation. She was a WOWS (Working on Women in Science) Scholar from 2007 -2009 and was 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.

McNeil joined the UNC-Chapel Hill faculty in 1984 and is a condensed matter/materials physicist, specializing in optical spectroscopy of semiconductors and insulators. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the university’s Academy of Distinguished Teaching Scholars and from 1996 – 1999 held a Bowman and Gordon Gray Professorship for “excellence in inspirational teaching of undergraduate students.”

In 2009, McNeil received the Mary Turner Lane Award from the UNC-Chapel Hill Association of Women Faculty and Professionals for outstanding contributions to the lives of women at Carolina.  In 2010, she was similarly honored with a University Award for the Advancement of Women. She holds degrees in chemistry and physics from Harvard University and received her master’s and Ph.D. in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.