Homer A. Neal, Ph.D., prominent high-energy physicist, educator, and leader in higher education passed away on May 23, 2018. Dr. Neal was interim president emeritus, vice president emeritus for research, Samuel A. Goudsmit Distinguished University Professor of Physics, and professor of physics in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
Professor Neal had a long, distinguished career and was a world-leading expert in the studies of particle spin and polarization. He pursued his research at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, Fermilab, and for the past 20 years at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1987, on returning to Michigan to lead the Physics Department, Professor Neal established a research group that joined the DZero experiment at Fermilab. His group played key roles in the discovery of the top quark at Fermilab, and his contributions also included the discoveries of the Ξb and Ωb baryons. As the Fermilab Tevatron accelerator program wound down, his attention turned to the world’s next major high-energy accelerator – the Large Hadron Collider or LHC - at CERN. Professor Neal led a group of Michigan faculty to join the ATLAS Experiment, and under his leadership, the group blossomed into one of the largest and most productive university groups working at the LHC. With his colleagues, he made critical contributions to the discovery of the Higgs boson. He was also a pioneer in the development of tools for shared data in large collaborations and led the initial design of the computing architecture of the ATLAS Experiment.
"Homer Neal was a legend as a scientist and as a leader at the University of Michigan," said Andrew D. Martin, Dean of the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts. "Throughout his career, he stood on the cutting edge of physics, but we will miss him just as much as a colleague and friend who made U-M a better place."
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 at CERN every summer and developed a seminar in science policy that led to the textbook Beyond Sputnik, which he co-authored, and which is being widely used.
University of Michigan President Mark S. Schlissel, recognizing Professor Neal’s many contributions, said, “Our society and our university have been made better by Homer Neal's achievements as a preeminent scholar and leader. Dr. Neal championed the idea that U-M should engage our academic mission beyond the borders of our campus, and our students and the communities we serve continue to see the benefits of his vision today. I am also very appreciative of Dr. Neal's passion for fostering undergraduate participation in research and his willingness to step forward and serve our campus community with distinction."
Professor Neal was a recipient of a Sloan Foundation Fellowship, Guggenheim Fellowship, the Stony Brook Medal, and the Indiana University Distinguished Alumni Service Award. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society, the AAAS, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He holds Honorary Doctorates from Indiana University, Notre Dame University and Michigan State University.
Professor Neal had an impact on the lives of many individuals, on science, and on the development of many thriving institutions. In spite of the major responsibilities he assumed in his various positions, his interactions with people were at a very personal level and seemed to always leave individuals feeling more engaged and part of the bigger picture for having had the discussion. He had an ability to help solve major problems by getting people to see what they shared in common. He was an outstanding scholar and colleague. We will all miss his presence and human insight greatly.
Funeral services took place on Tuesday, May 29 at 12:00 p.m. at the Carpenter Road Chapel; visitation was 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m the same day.