Dear Physics Community,

I write with great happiness and gratitude to announce an important milestone in the history of our department. Today, the Regents voted to honor the life and legacy of one of our most distinguished colleagues, Professor Homer Neal, by renaming the “new” portion of Randall Laboratory the Homer A. Neal Laboratory.

Homer A. Neal (1942-2018) grew up in Franklin, Kentucky during the era of segregation, and earned his bachelor’s degree at the age of 19 from Indiana University at a time when Black students were barred from entering the student union and were excluded from much of campus life. Despite these obstacles, he went on to earn his Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Michigan in 1966. Professor Neal served as Provost at SUNY Stony Brook before joining our faculty in 1987. He served as Physics department chair from 1987-1993, leading an intellectual revitalization of our department and overseeing the planning and construction of the building that will now bear his name. He served as UM’s vice president for research from 1993-96, and as interim President of the university from 1996-97.

Professor Neal’s impact extended far beyond our campus. As a member of the National Science Board from 1980-1986, he led that organization’s first comprehensive report on undergraduate STEM education. This report led to the creation of the Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, which continues to provide transformative summer research opportunities for hundreds of students each year. He served on the board of directors of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation and the Ford Motor Company. As a Regent of the Smithsonian Institution, Professor Neal served on the Council for the Smithsonian Museum of African American History. In 2016 he became the first Black American to serve as President of the 50,000-member American Physical Society.

An accomplished experimental particle physicist, Professor Neal also maintained an active research program. He led UM’s group on the DZero Collaboration at Fermilab, which discovered the top quark in 1995, and brought UM into the ATLAS Collaboration at CERN, which discovered the Higgs Boson in 2012. He was universally admired for his keen judgment, kind demeanor, and true dedication to science education and outreach. Professor Neal left the Physics department a generous bequest intended to ensure that undergraduates can continue to benefit from research and study abroad at CERN.

The international stature that our department enjoys today is due in part to Professor Homer Neal’s leadership and vision. Today’s action by the Regents builds on that legacy. We can take collective pride in knowing that discoveries that will shape physics in the 21st century will take place inside the Homer A. Neal Laboratory.

Sincerely yours,

David Gerdes
Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Physics
Chair, Department of Physics
Professor of Astronomy
University of Michigan