Valparaiso University acquired a $210,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and a $129,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for nuclear physics research.

“This funding provides several Valpo students with extraordinary research opportunities,” said Shirvel Stanislaus, Ph.D., professor of physics and principal investigator for the grants. “These students become fully engaged with leading scientists in challenging, high profile experiments, developing skills critical for entry into graduate school. These are opportunities that most students do not find in predominantly undergraduate schools like ours.”

With the new DOE grant that originated in 2015, at the end of a previous grant, which had provided 30 years of continuous funding for nuclear physics research, Valpo students now study the contributions to the spin of the proton by its constituents, using polarized proton-proton collisions alongside hundreds of physicists from institutions around the world. In this experiment, carried out at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Long Island, protons are accelerated to nearly the speed of light in a large underground collider. Scientific analysis methods are used to understand the inner workings of the protons by analyzing the particles produced as a result of the collisions.

Last summer, Chamindu Amarasinghe ’18, a physics and mathematics major, participated in this DOE-funded research. “I manipulated and analyzed several years of data to uncover trends and patterns, then presented my results regularly, culminating in a poster presentation at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society Division of Nuclear Physics in Santa Fe, N.M.,” Amarasinghe said. “This project gave me the opportunity to explore my passion with the guidance of multiple physics professors. The insight I gained into actual physics research and the skills I honed will be crucial in my further graduate research.”

In addition to the DOE grant, the NSF has provided funding for Valpo students to work in collaboration with physicists from around the world in a sophisticated experiment to search for the Electric Dipole Moment of the neutron. This experiment will be carried out at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In order to obtain a precise measurement of this property of the neutron, researchers are challenged to stabilize the neutron through controlled temperature reduction and by applying an extremely strong electric field to the neutron. This experiment provides an opportunity to test several particle physics models and ultimately has implications on the particle-antiparticle asymmetry in the universe.

“The expansion of knowledge of nuclear matter and its properties provided for by these grants powerfully benefits students, and has broad implications for pure and applied science,” said Mark L. Biermann, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “Personal involvement in this cutting-edge research provides essential preparation for our students. They will be able to apply the knowledge and skills that they gain to future graduate work in physics or related fields, as well as in careers in science and technology.”

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