Physics at The U receives $3 million Department of Energy grant for research

VERMILLION, S.D. -- The University of South Dakota Department of Physics was awarded a $3 million grant to pursue high purity germanium crystal growth and develop detectors underground to be used in experiments seeking a deeper understanding of energy and matter.

Dongming Mei, assistant professor of physics at USD, is the principal investigator on a Department of Energy (DOE) EPSCoR Implementation grant which involves numerous faculty and students from the departments of both physics and chemistry at USD. The project also includes important collaborations with faculty and students at South Dakota State University and the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSM&T). This is the first DOE EPSCoR Implementation grant ever awarded to the state of South Dakota.

“USD has taken a leading role to involve South Dakota physicists in DUSEL activities,” explained Laura Jenski, Ph.D., vice president of research at USD. “DOE funding for this research complements state funding for the CUBED 2010 Center led by USD, and helps to solidify statewide collaborations in underground physics research.”

The germanium crystals will form the basis of detectors designed for experiments to detect rare events in physics such as neutrinoless double beta decay and dark matter. These experiments will be located at the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) at the former Homestake Mine in Lead, S.D. and will involve scientists from all over the world. Initially, the crystals will be grown on the surface in laboratories at USD and SDSM&T, but the crystal growth activities will eventually move underground to minimize cosmogenic backgrounds.

According to Mei, the project is of great importance to scientists planning on locating these highly sensitive experiments underground and has attracted the attention of the underground science community.

“This project will greatly enhance the infrastructure for South Dakota scientists who are working together under the support of the 2010 Center – CUBED,” added Mei. “The overall goal of the project is to perform material purification and crystal growth underground at the Sanford Laboratory and DUSEL. When completed, DUSEL will be the only site in the world where high purity germanium crystals are grown in a deep underground environment.”

Download a photo of Mei.

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