Department of Physics & Astronomy
University of New Mexico

Sigma Xi Public Talk

Good Vibrations: The Interplay of Music and Physics

Presented by Laurie McNeil is the Bernard Gray Distinguished Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She earned an A.B. in Chemistry and Physics from Radcliffe College, Harvard University, and a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After two years as an IBM Postdoctoral Fellow at MIT she joined the faculty at UNC-CH in 1984. She serves as a Deputy Editor at the Journal of Applied Physics. Prof. McNeil is a materials physicist who uses optical spectroscopy to investigate the properties of semiconductors and insulators. She is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and has worked throughout her career to enhance the representation and success of women in physics. Together with a colleague in the Department of Music at UNC-CH she teaches a course on the physics of musical instruments.

Scholars and musicians from the ancient Greeks to modern times have asked questions about music:

Why do we find the combination of certain pitches pleasing?
Why do two different instruments playing the same note sound different?
Can musical instruments be improved (and what would that mean)?

The answers to these questions arise from the profound connections between music and physics.

I will elucidate some principles of musical acoustics and explore how they affect the way instruments work and how we experience musical sound. In doing so I will draw on my background as a physicist and a musician, and on my experience co-teaching a course on the subject with a professional musician.

Co-sponsored by the UNM Chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society, the Albuquerque Section of the Institute of Electrical & Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and its Life Members Affinity Group, Sigma Xi (the Scientific Research Honor Society), and the UNM Department of Physics and Astronomy.

Zoom Link:

Science & Society Distinguished Public Talks are free and Open to the Public

6:30 pm, Thursday, March 16, 2023

Disability NoticeIndividuals with disabilities who need an auxiliary aid or service to attend or participate in P&A events should contact the Physics Department (phone: 505-277-2616, email: well in advance to ensure your needs are accomodated. Event handouts can be provided in alternative accessible formats upon request. Please contact the Physics front office if you need written information in an alternative format.

A schedule of talks within the Department of Physics and Astronomy is available on the P&A web site at