USD Professors Receive Prestigious NSF Grants for Germanium Crystal Research, Dark Matter Detection

Photo of professors Jing Liu and Guojian Wang. Professors Guojian Wang (left) and Jing Liu (right) have won the National Science Foundation EPSCoR grants.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Two University of South Dakota professors have been awarded prestigious grants from the National Science Foundation for their research into germanium crystals and dark matter detection.

Jing Liu and Guojian Wang are two of 30 faculty members from institutions across the United States receiving fellowships through the NSF’s Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research or EPSCoR. Both will receive more than $150,000 over a period of two years to fund their research.

According to the NSF, EPSCoR Research Infrastructure Improvement (RII) Track-4 fellowship awards total roughly $5.6 million and will be distributed to researchers across 20 states. Awardees will “make extended collaborative visits to laboratories and scientific centers, establish partnerships with researchers with complementary expertise, learn new techniques, have access to sophisticated equipment, and shift their research focuses in new directions.”

Unlike other types of NSF EPSCoR awards, which focus on supporting research centers and partnerships among institutions, RII Track-4 focuses on giving individual researchers the foundation for collaborations that span their entire careers.

Liu, an assistant professor of physics at USD, will receive his fellowship for his research and work on creating germanium crystal detection devices on campus that can detect radiation, as well as hopefully someday detect dark matter. Dark matter is matter which has never before been detected by humans, but is believed to make up a majority of the known universe. In Lead, South Dakota, scientists are working to detect dark matter at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

Liu’s research has both applications for homeland security as well as the scientific community at large.

“The advantage of a germanium detector is it has excellent energy resolution. It knows the energy of a particle precisely,” he said.

Wang, a research assistant professor in the physics department, is receiving his fellowship for research into growing purer germanium crystals for use in detectors such as the ones built by Liu and his team. Using the grant money, they’ll travel to the University of Tennessee where similar research is being done to collaborate with other scientists on how to make the crystals grown at USD better.

“First year we can go there and measure our current crystals to find the problems and then the next year we can grow crystals and bring the new crystals there. After that, we’ll have a much clear idea of what’s happening in our crystals,” said Wang.

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