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USD's Wenqin Xu Receives Grant for Germanium Detector Research

Wenqin Xu, Ph.D., head shot Wenqin Xu, Ph.D., was awarded a grant from the NSF for his research in operating high-purity germanium detectors in liquid scintillators.

VERMILLION, S.D. – Wenqin Xu, Ph.D., an assistant professor for the Department of Physics at the University of South Dakota, has recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for his research in operating high-purity germanium detectors in liquid scintillators.

The germanium detector will have the ability to indirectly investigate properties of neutrinos that often pass through detectors without any interactions. Xu’s research will help improve germanium and liquid argon detectors for future research to be conducted.

Xu, along with his graduate students and postdoctoral researcher at USD, are members of the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR experiment currently taking data at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota. The state of South Dakota, USD and the NSF support Xu’s team efforts.

For this new project, Xu will work with researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) to continue the development of the detector, which could be particularly valuable for a proposed scaled-up version of their current experiment. The partnership will help advance the understanding of the world through new technologies and experiments.

This is not the first time Xu’s work has been recognized. In 2016, as part of the Daya Bay Collaboration, Xu was awarded the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics for discovering a hypothesized new kind of neutrino oscillation.

“This research was selected because neutrinos hold a key to understanding the Standard Model of Particle Physics and Beyond. Therefore, this discovery has far-reaching implications,” said Xu, “I am always curious about the fundamental laws and building blocks of the universe.”

Neutrinos are subatomic particles that have nearly zero mass, so they are able to move through the world at the speed of light. Neutrinos can move through the universe, including through buildings and even human bodies, going undetected because of the low mass. Because neutrinos are so incredibly small, physicist have been intrigued by the mysteries involved and believe that by understanding neutrinos, researchers can develop a better understanding of our universe as well.

Researchers in Xu’s field have made many world-altering advances throughout time, including many technologies and devices through the broad spectrum of Nuclear and Particle Physics, such as the world-wide-web. Medical Imaging, for example, may see improvements through radiation detection research activities like Xu and his colleagues’ work on germanium detectors.

“Physicists in my field do not work alone,” Xu said. “The field as a whole develops and recognizes possible hypotheses based on existing experimental evidence, and researchers continue to test these hypotheses with improved experiments.”

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