Students from The U earn NASA research grants

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Two students from The University of South Dakota are receiving grants from NASA for the spring 2009 semester. Jason Spaans, a 2008 graduate of USD from Larchwood, Iowa, is the recipient of a graduate NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium while Keenan Thomas, a USD senior from Rapid City, S.D., is the recipient of an undergraduate NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium. They will each receive a stipend from NASA in the amount of $2,500.

Undergraduate and graduate stipends are rewarded to students based on their past accomplishments as well as to recognize potential future achievements. As part of the Nuclear and Particle Physics Group, which consists of faculty, students and post-docs from The U, both Spaans and Thomas are actively involved in past and present physics research. Once their research has concluded, Spaans and Thomas will be required to submit a brief report on their experience and accomplishments to NASA.

Spaans, who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science degree from The U, is now a graduate student at South Dakota State University, while continuing his research activities under the mentorship of Dongming Mei, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at USD. He presented a paper, "Neutron Background Evaluation for Dark Matter Detectors at DUSEL," at the American Physical Society – Division of Nuclear Physics meeting in 2007 and at an American Physical Society meeting last April in St. Louis entitled, "Depleted Argon from Old-Water Underground at Wall, South Dakota."

Thomas, a physics and mathematics major at The U, also presented at the American Physical Society – Division of Nuclear Physics meeting in Newport News, Va., last fall. His presentation, "Ultra-Low Background Counting Facility" was also conducted as part of a USD research opportunity under Mei, who is helping to create a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) at Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake in Lead, S.D.