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Headshots of Laura Mersini-Houghton and Karin Pfennig with their names and departments listed below. Laura works in the department of physics and astronomy. Karin works in the department of biology.
Laura Mersini-Houghton (department of physics and astronomy) and Karin Pfennig (department of biology) have been named scholars in the College’s Working on Women in Science initiative.

Professors Laura Mersini-Houghton in the physics and astronomy department and Karin Pfennig in the biology department have been named scholars in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Working on Women in Science (WOWS) initiative. 

The initiative, which was founded in 2007, is dedicated to professional advancement in the sciences in the College. Scholars serve two-year terms and receive annual grants to pursue initiatives of their choosing. They will work in close partnership with the College’s Associate Dean for Research and Innovation Kelly Giovanello and Senior Associate Dean for Natural Sciences Jaye Cable. The scholars’ appointments begin July 1. 

About the scholars

Mersini-Houghton is a prominent theoretical physicist working on fundamental questions in cosmology and particle physics. Among other publications, she is the author of the 2022 popular science book, Before the Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe and What Lies Beyond, which has been reviewed by major publications and translated into 11 languages. The book explains complex topics in beginner-friendly terms, which may draw young people to STEM fields.
Mersini-Houghton also serves in leadership roles at UNC, nationally and internationally. She is currently associate chair for development in physics and astronomy and serves on UNC’s Faculty Council. She is a member of the Board of Editors for the journal Cosmology as well as a board member for the Turkish Physical Society.

Pfennig is a behavioral and evolutionary ecologist who blends field and laboratory work to understand the role of behavior in the origins and distribution of biodiversity. She and a team of faculty and scientists have started a new collaborative organization, the Carolina Biodiversity Collaborative, to develop solutions to the global biodiversity crisis.

Pfennig is committed to advancing women in the sciences and works with national programs such as Girls Advancing in STEM. At UNC, she has served as a peer mentoring circle facilitator for female junior faculty as part of the Targeting Equity in Access to Mentoring (TEAM) ADVANCE program. She has served in several leadership roles at Carolina, including service as a member and chair of the Appointments, Promotions and Tenure Committee and as biology’s associate chair for academic affairs. She is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Academic Leadership Program. 

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