Physics Program Graduates First Ph.D. Student in South Dakota

Photo of Wenzhao Wei, USD Wenzhao Wei is the first Ph.D. graduate from USD's new physics doctorate program.

VERMILLION, S.D. – The University of South Dakota Department of Physics has conferred the first Ph.D. in physics in the state of South Dakota to Wenzhao Wei. The USD graduate physics program is a joint program with the SDSM&T.

Wei worked with USD professor Dongming Mei on her thesis titled “Advanced Germanium Detectors for Rare Event Physics Searches.” Her work will provide critical knowledge in developing the next generation of ultra-sensitive germanium detectors for the planned experiments at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota.

Wei completed her Bachelors in Computer Science from Central China Normal University and obtained a Masters degree in Physics from USD in 2014. According to Wei, “The Ph.D. in Physics at USD is very rewarding and it provides not only a unique crystal germanium crystal growth facility and broad connections with world-class research collaborators, but also educates and trains students with all critical skills including initiative, tenacity, flexibility, interpersonal skills, organization, and communication.”

“Dr. Wei was able to publish five papers as the first author and a few papers in the authorship with collaborators in pursuing her degree at USD. Her achievements have warranted her a couple job offers," said Mei, director of USD’s Center for Ultra-low Background Experiments at Dakota (CUBED), and the principal investigator of a recent $4.35 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation.

Wei’s Ph.D. represents the beginning of a new era of physics higher education in South Dakota, strengthening the South Dakota workforce in science and technology.

USD’s physics department is a global leader in dark matter and germanium research, collaborating with scientists all over the world on experiments at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota.


USD's College of Arts & Sciences offers students a top-notch undergraduate liberal arts education in the humanities, social sciences and sciences as well as graduate programs that have earned USD distinction as a research university by the Carnegie Foundation. The college's more than 22,000 alumni include famous journalists, Hollywood screenwriters, novelists, a Nobel Prize winner, South Dakota governors, attorneys, physicians, justices of the state Supreme Court, distinguished university faculty and international humanitarians.


Founded in 1862 and the first university in the Dakotas, the University of South Dakota is the only public liberal arts university in the state, with 205 undergraduate and 73 graduate programs in the College of Arts & Sciences, School of Education, School of Law, Sanford School of Medicine, School of Health Sciences, Beacom School of Business and College of Fine Arts. With an enrollment of nearly 10,000 students and more than 400 faculty, USD has a 17:1 student/faculty ratio, and it ranks among the best in academics and affordability. USD’s 17 athletic programs compete at the NCAA Division I level.


Michael Ewald
USD News