Welcome to the Evolving Man Project’s “Evolved Man of the Week” profile. Each week we will highlight an individual that embodies what it means to be an evolved person, famous and non-famous individuals alike. The world needs to know their stories and deeds. This week’s honor goes to the late particle physicist and the distinguished professor at the University of Michigan, Professor Homer A. Neal.
Professor Neal was born in 1942 and grew up in a predominately black community in highly segregated Franklin, Kentucky. His neighbors forced him to break off relations with a white friend with whom he had bonded over a shared interest in ham radio.
Neal received his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1966. From 1976 to 1981, he was Dean for Research and Graduate Development at Indiana University and Provost at Stony Brook University from 1981 to 1986. From 1987 to 1993, he was Chair of the physics department at the University of Michigan.
He was part of the D0 Collaboration at Fermilab that discovered the top quark in 1995. From 2000 to 2015, he was the Director of the University of Michigan team that collaborated at CERN on the ATLAS experiment and participated in discovering the Higgs boson in 2012.
In addition to his scientific and academic leadership roles, Professor Neal served as President of the American Physical Society, board member of the Ford Motor Company, council member of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, Director of the Richard Lounsbery Foundation, Regent of the Smithsonian Institution and on the National Science Board (NSB).
As a member of the NSB, he played a pivotal role in establishing the widely popular and effective Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. At Michigan, he initiated and coordinated the flourishing CERN REU program for U.S. students to participate in cutting-edge research CERN every summer and developed a seminar in science policy that led to the textbook Beyond Sputnik, which he co-authored being widely used.
Here is Professor Neal in his own words about the lack of youth from underrepresented communities being involved in the scientific fields even in the late 2010s:
“Even though huge nationwide investments have been made by the government and agencies,” … “the number of underrepresented children is alarming.”
Professor Neal passed away in May 2018 from complications due to a stroke. He was 75 years old. Professor Neal is survived by his children, Sharon-Denise Neal, who trained as an archaeologist, and Homer A. Neal Jr., a physicist and staff scientist at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University; and four grandchildren and his widow, Mrs. Neal.
Professor Homer A. Neal left his mark in and outside the complex world of particle physics. Including bringing people and perspectives from diverse communities in the scientific fields. We at the Evolving Man Project celebrate the life and legacy of Professor Homer A. Neal. Today we honor Homer A. Neal as our Evolved Man of the Week.