Two Black Hills State University physical science majors are working with scientists and engineers from around the world on the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment at Sanford Underground Research Facility.
Nolan Maher, a freshman from Bismark, N.D., and Erika Redinger, a junior from Spearfish, are visiting Sanford Lab two times per week this semester where they work on projects contributing to LZ. LZ is a next-generation dark matter detector.
“I love the hands-on work,” says Redinger. “For one of our recent projects we traveled nearly a mile below ground to build a test model to see if one of the tanks needed for the xenon tower would fit through the underground cavern.”
The two BHSU students have also designed a support structure for free-hanging pipes and work in a dust-filtering cleanroom.
Both Maher and Redinger have taken advantage of opportunities at BHSU preparing them to work on the large LZ collaboration, which includes approximately 250 participating scientists and engineers representing 38 institutions around the world.
“Erika and Nolan have done a phenomenal job working with LZ this semester. Both are also very active in other programs around campus. They are wonderful examples of the opportunities BHSU can provide to students. The best way to decide whether or not you like a particular area of science is to get involved in research and Erika and Nolan have definitely become immersed in the world of underground physics,” said Dr. Brianna Mount, assistant professor of physics and director of the BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab.
Maher arrived at BHSU from North Dakota thanks to the opportunity to run track and cross country in the Black Hills along with a science scholarship. His BHSU faculty advisor suggested he connect with Mount, assistant professor of physics at BHSU and “After working with Dr. Mount in the optics lab on campus my first semester of college, I continue to find out about more opportunities to further pursue research,” says Maher.
Redinger graduated from Spearfish High School where she first went underground at Sanford Lab with her science teacher Steve Gabriel. Redinger says from that experience she was “hooked” on science.
Like Maher, Redinger’s advisor at BHSU suggested she talk with Mount to continue learning about the experiments being conducted at nearby Sanford Lab. Last semester, Redinger worked with Mount at the BHSU Underground Campus where she helped build a germanium detector and participated in low background counting of very small amounts of radioactive elements in samples for LZ.
“At BHSU, our classes prepare us for opportunities like this internship. I’m not the best at science but I am stubborn and will work hard until I figure it out. When I continue to have these hands-on experiences through BHSU, I continue to enjoy the pursuit of science,” says Redinger.
Redinger and Maher are both involved in the BHSU Honors Program, and Redinger is a member of the Women in STEM student group.
This summer, the growth opportunities for these two students continue. Maher was recently accepted into the all-expense paid summer-study Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program. He and a group of seven other students will spend four weeks exploring the world of modern science at the nation’s leading labs and universities, as well as traveling to an underground research lab in Italy.
Redinger will complete a paid summer internship with the GEMADARC (Germanium Materials and Detectors Advancement Research Consortium) Collaboration, which is funded by the National Science Foundation PIRE (Partnerships for International Research and Education Program/) program. She will travel to Germany and Italy, and continue research at BHSU in Spearfish, through the program.
About the BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab
The BHSU Underground Campus at Sanford Lab provides an extraordinary opportunity for BHSU students in multiple disciplines, including physics, biology, geology, physical science, and education and outreach opportunities, to take part in a unique research environment almost a mile underground. BHSU partnered with Sanford Lab in 2016 to construct a cleanroom and adjoining work space. Through the Underground Campus, BHSU provides a collaborative research experience for students to work with groups around the globe. Projects at the Underground Campus include: ultra-sensitive physics detectors for assay of materials, a staging area for biologists studying microbes in situ, study of geology through rock formations and groundwater, student-based short-term projects from a variety of disciplines.