Ask a Scientist: Dr. M.J. Soileau

Ask a Scientist

Introducing our Scientist in Residence

As an institution, Orlando Science Center is dedicated to increasing science literacy in our community and beyond. We’re taking steps to solidify our place as a trusted resource for up-to-date information on popular science topics. From climate science to space exploration, we hope that when a community member has a STEM-related question to ask a scientist, we are the first place they go to find out more.

As part of this endeavor, we are proud to introduce our Scientist in Residence, an initiative that goes hand-in-hand with our Science Matters campaigns. The Scientist in Residence is a STEM professional who is an expert in their field. They’re also available to provide unique insight into trending science topics, promote science literacy, and answer questions from the public. 

Meet Dr. M.J. Soileau

It is our pleasure to introduce Dr. M.J. Soileau, our inaugural Scientist in Residence. Dr. Soileau is the perfect person to help us launch this effort. A big personality with a passion for improving the STEM environment — and a former trustee of Orlando Science Center — Dr. Soileau has been a trailblazer in both optical research and higher education.

Dr. Soileau is a Louisiana sharecropper/laborer’s son who hoed cotton to pay for college. As you can tell, he learned the value of hard work early. Dr. Soileau remembers his parents as good, hardworking people who raised him to speak bluntly and pursue goals relentlessly. 

“I never was the brightest star in the galaxy – and I’m still not – but I grew up learning how to work,” Dr. Soileau said. “I think one of the most important things you learn in science is, if you really push on a problem long enough and hard enough, it gives up.”

Dr. Soileau moved to Orlando in January 1987 to be the founding director of the Center for Research in Electro-Optics and Lasers (CREOL) — now CREOL the College of Optics and Photonics — at the University of Central Florida (UCF). He dedicated more than 35 years of his career to UCF, transforming the fledgling research center into one of the major educational and research institutions for optics in the world. Dr. Soileau became Vice President for Research and Commercialization in 2000. He then returned to the CREOL faculty in the Fall of 2016 and retired July 2022. 

“What a wonderful life to spend your life learning stuff,” Dr. Soileau said. “And by the way, when you teach, you learn so much more than the students do.”

It is this passion for learning and education that we hope will permeate our halls and help support us in our mission to inspire science learning for life. As our Scientist in Residence, Dr. Soileau will be making appearances and offering unique experiences throughout the year. This partnership promises to deliver exceptional educational value to our members, visitors, and the Central Florida community — from special presentations at Science Night Live events to guest workshops with the kids of Neighborhood Science.