Discover physics.

Mining for New Physics

Interested in Physics?
The Physical Science degree at Black Hills State University is dedicated to its students by giving them enriching research opportunities. BHSU, led by Dr. Kara Keeter, is establishing a nuclear and particle astrophysics program that studies the very smallest particles in the universe in order to understand structures as large as stars, supernova and even galaxies. The Sanford Underground Research Facilityin Lead, SD acts as a perfect location to study these particles. There are many exciting experiments and centers to get involved in at BHSU such as the ongoing research in the Optics Lab, CUBED, FAARM, and QuarkNet.

Learn more about Physics Research at BHSU.

Physics at Black Hills State University is a subdivision of the School of Natural Sciences that includes BiologyChemistryand Physical Science. The close association of all of these disciplines in a single department makes for a vibrant scientific community with strong interdisciplinary interactions. Physics plays a key role in the Environmental Physical Science and Physical Scienceprograms. 

Minor in Physics - 24 hours

  • 5 PHYS 211 University Physics I & 211L Lab
  • 5 PHYS 213 University Physics II & 213L Lab
  • 3 PHYS 331 Introduction to Modern Physics
  • 3 PHYS 451 Classical Mechanics
  • 3 PHYS 471 Quantum Mechanics
  • 3 PHYS 491 Independent Study

Minor in Physics - Teaching - 24 hours

  • 2 SEED 413 7-12 Science Methods
  • 5 PHYS 211 University Physics I & 211L Lab
  • 5 PHYS 213 University Physics II & 213L Lab
  • 3 PHYS 331 Introduction to Modern Physics
  • 3 PHYS 451 Classical Mechanics
  • 3 PHYS 471 Quantum Mechanics
  • 3 PHYS 491 Independent Study
    OR
    PHYS 185 Intro to Astronomy & 185L Lab

Interested in Physics Research?

There are many ways for you to be involved in BHSU physics research.  We are always looking for enthusiastic new students!  There are opportunities for involvement during the summer as well as the school year.  The BHSU physics program is growing, and you can be a part of it!  Come visit us in Jonas Science 165 for a tour of the lab or stop by next door to visit with Dr. Keeter about your future in physics at BHSU. 

What We Do

BHSU is establishing a nuclear and particle astrophysics program that studies the very smallest particles in the universe in order to understand structures as large as stars, supernova, and even galaxies. Two elusive particles, neutrinos and dark matter, are the current subject of intense debate and interest. In fact, national advisory committees list investigating the nature of dark matter and neutrinos among the highest priority questions in particle physics today.

Although these particles arrive at the Earth from space, they are so hard to “see” that it is necessary to place the detectors deep underground, to shield from background “noise” found on surface. Sanford Underground Research Facility will be among the world’s premier locations for such research, and work has already begun at the interim Sanford Lab. BHSU scientists are involved in collaborations with physicists from prestigious institutions throughout the United States and the world to study neutrinos and dark matter. Find out more about the centers hosting Physics research...

These internationally recognized experiments have the potential to change the basic Standard Model of Particle Physics and to forever enhance our understanding of the universe. QuarkNet at Black Hills State University offers teachers a unique opportunity to participate in this ground‑breaking research. Find out more about the experiments being conducted by BHSU...

At Black Hills State University, the Physics program is investigating the nature of dark matter and neutrinos. Key questions in 21st century physics that have been identified by many national institutes including: the National Research Board, the National Science and Technology Council, the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP), and more.

BHSU, led by Dr. Kara Keeter, is establishing a nuclear and particle astrophysics program at Black Hills State University that studies the very smallest particles in the universe in order to understand structures as large as stars, supernovae, and even galaxies. Two elusive particles, neutrinos and dark matter, are the current subject of intense debate and interest. In fact, national advisory committees list investigating the nature of dark matter and neutrinos among the highest priority questions in particle physics today. Below are some details about BHSU's Physics programs efforts in dark matter research and Neutrino research.

Dark Matter Research:

BHSU is involved in two collaborations to build detectors to search for dark matter in the form of WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles). These two collaborations are:

  • DARKSIDE (Depleted Argon Dark Matter Detector)
  • MAX (Multi-ton Liquid Argon and Xenon Dark Matter Detectors)

WIMPS? What are WIMPS?

Cold dark matter experiments are a primary focus area of major funding organizations such as the NSF, DOE and NASA*. Astrophysical evidence for cold dark matter is now compelling, but its nature remains a fundamental mystery. Particularly intriguing is the possibility that dark matter is made of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) that interact only via the gravitational force and the weak nuclear force. These WIMPs may be observed by detecting their collisions with ordinary nuclei as the Earth's motion intercepts their path around the galaxy.

The Dark Matter Scientific Advisory Group has identified detectors based on noble liquids as one of the most promising technologies for detecting dark matter WIMPs. Liquid argon is an especially promising medium for WIMP detection due to its efficient conversion of energy from WIMP-induced nuclear recoils into both ionization and scintillation, allowing a very effective separation of nuclear recoil events from β/γ background radiation.

DARKSIDE and MAX Explained:

DARKSIDE and MAX are international collaborations to build dark matter detectors. The DARKSIDE Collaboration is designing a small detector that will use liquid argon from underground sources so that it is depleted in 39Ar. This is important because 39Ar is radioactive and would be a source of undesirable background. This isotope of argon is produced when cosmic rays strike natural atmospheric argon atoms.

The MAX Collaboration is designing a much larger detector that will use the DARKSIDE detector as a prototype. The MAX detector will actually be two detectors, one using liquid argon and one using liquid xenon, that will share resources and common costs such as basic engineering design. MAX will be able to provide:

  • Confirmation of discovery in twin targets
  • Confirmation of A2 dependence of cross section
  • Measurement of the mass of the WIMP by comparison of recoil spectra in different targets
  • Indication on spin-dependent or spin-independent nature of interactions

It is critical to the success of these searches that the argon or xenon be free of impurities that would distort or quench the signal. BHSU is designing and building a custom trace gas analyzer based on cavity ring-down spectroscopy (CRDS) that will exceed the currently available sensitivities by an order of magnitude. We are working with Dr. Kevin Lehmann of UVa, who holds several patents. The BHSU system will be in demand by all neutrino and dark matter experiments using noble liquids.

Neutrino Research:

Find out what BHSU students and staff are researching on neutrinos. These particles come to Earth from space, and are so hard to “see” that it is necessary to place the detectors deep underground, to shield from background “noise” found on surface. The Sanford Underground Research Facility at Homestake acts as a perfect location for this type of research.

BHSU is involved in two experiments to look for neutrinoless double beta decays:

  • MAJORANA (Ge-based Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay Detector)
  • SNO+ (Nd-based Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay Detector)

Both of these collaborations are international in scope. MAJORANA is part of the Initial Suite of Experiments to be deployed in Sanford Lab, while the SNO+ detector is housed within the infrastructure of the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in a mine near Sudbury, Ontario.

Neutrinoless Double Beta Decays Explained:

Although it has been determined that neutrinos have mass, there are still questions regarding the nature of neutrinos: whether they are Majorana particles or Dirac particles; what is the mass scale; etc. One experimental approach to answer these questions is to look for neutrinoless double beta decay reactions. Certain isotopes may undergo decay reactions involving the simultaneous emission of two beta particles (electrons). According to the Standard Model of Particle Physics, two neutrinos (or antineutrinos) should also be emitted. However, if the neutrino can serve as its own antiparticle (i.e., if it is a Majorana particle) then it should be possible to have a double beta decay in which no neutrinos are emitted.

By carefully measuring the cross section of double beta decay reactions in ultra-sensitive experiments, neutrinoless double beta decay may be observed, violating the conservation of lepton number and proving that neutrinos are Majorana particles.
 

The Physics department at BHSU has created a CRDS Lab Members Summer 11state-of-the-art spectroscopy laboratory for ongoing research in association with the Sanford Underground Lab. The spectroscopy lab is building a custom Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy system for detecting very low levels of chemical impurities in Argon gas. This gas will be employed as the detection medium in future dark matter experiments in Lead, SD at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF).

There are several centers that BHSU is involved with to further our Physics program. A few of these centers include QuarkNet, CUBED and FAARM.

QuarkNet

QuarkNet is a national educational and outreach program that is highly respected in the particle physics community. By funding the BHSU Center, the particle physics community shows great support in the developing SURF Physics program at BHSU. The BHSU QuarkNet Center is committed to providing opportunities to high school teachers from both East River and West River, and especially to the Tribal schools. Learn more about QuarkNet...

CUBED

(Center for Ultra-low Background Experiments at SURF) is a 2010 Research Center that was created by the state of South Dakota. CUBED will provide additional research opportunities in physical science. This is one of seven 2010 Research Centers established under the direction of Gov. Mike Rounds. The CUBED center, which also includes faculty members from other S.D. state universities, will develop a critical mass of expertise necessary for the state to fully participate in large-scale projects at the underground lab. In addition to Dr. Kara Keeter, Dr. Dan Durben, physics professor, and Dr. Mike Zehfus, chemistry professor, are involved with this work.

FAARM

(Facility for the Acquisition and Assay of Radiopure Materials)is designing a dedicated facility for low background counting and other assay techniques for science experiments going into SURF.