Five USD students earn research grants from NASA

VERMILLION, S.D. -- Five students from The University of South Dakota will receive stipends from NASA, totaling $22,000.

Keenan Thomas, of Rapid City, S.D., is a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in physics at USD. He will receive a $12,000 stipend while Jason Spaans, a graduate student from Larchwood, Iowa; Patrick Davis, an undergraduate student majoring in physics from Yankton, S.D.; Nathan L. Netzer, a graduate student from Aberdeen, S.D.; and Ryan Phillips, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in adult and higher education, will each receive $2,500 stipends from the NASA South Dakota Space Grant Consortium.

Thomas, who graduated from USD last May, plans to pursue a Ph.D. or work in the low-background counting facility at Sanford Lab, part of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) at Homestake Mine in Lead, S.D. Thomas’ research is focused on the Background Characterization of Homestake for Future Underground Experiments.

Spaans, who graduated in May 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree from The U, is continuing his research activities under the mentorship of Dongming Mei, Ph.D., assistant professor of physics at USD. His research is focused on Argon Depletion for Dark Matter Searches and he plans to pursue a Ph.D. in physics with continued work in dark matter detection.

Davis’ research, meanwhile, is focused on the Construction of a Liquid Scintillator Detector for Muon Counting at Homestake. He plans on pursing a graduate degree in physics while Netzer’s research is titled, “Near Infrared Quantum Dots as Active Layer Materials for Solar Cells Applications.” Netzer plans on pursuing a Ph.D. in chemistry and conducting scientific research in NASA-related fields once he graduates from USD. Phillips, of Brookings, S.D., is an associate professor of education at South Dakota State University and the program coordinator for the Aerospace Careers and Education (ACE) Camp held at the SDSU campus each summer.

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, all five students are actively involved in past and present physics research. Once their research has concluded, the students will be required to submit brief reports on their experience and accomplishments to NASA.