SDSM&T Adds Two World-class Particle Physicists to Lead New Ph.D. Program

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A pair of physicists hired to help lead particle and nuclear physics research in the new doctorate program at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology hold the promise of bringing the long-awaited Ph.D. to the world stage.

Our relationship with the underground facility in Lead is close, and with this expansion we will be working to strengthen it even more.

A pair of world-class particle physicists have been added to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology faculty as it continues to expand with a new Ph.D. program in physics.

The new doctorate program will serve the needs of the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, where scientists from around the world are conducting experiments in the search for dark matter.

The university’s unique physical proximity to groundbreaking experiments occurring nearly a mile below the Earth’s surface was instrumental in attracting top researchers to the new program, which is already becoming competitive for students.

Alberto Lemut, Ph.D., a physicist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and Luke Corwin, Ph.D., an Indiana University physicist based at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill., will be the major players in the new SDSM&T doctorate program, along with Xinhua Bai, Ph.D., and Doug Wells, Ph.D.

“Our relationship with the underground facility in Lead is close, and with this expansion we will be working to strengthen it even more,” said Heather Wilson, D.Phil., SDSM&T president.

Dr. Bai, who has worked on the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment at Sanford, joined the School of Mines staff in 2009 because of the potential of discovering elusive dark matter at the underground laboratory and in anticipation the Ph.D. program would come to fruition. Dr. Wells, also dean of Graduate Education, joined the university a year ago. The state’s first doctorate in physics was originally discussed in 1999, with a draft approved by the South Dakota Board of Regents in 2009. Funding was approved by the Legislature only this past year, however.

Dr. Lemut’s research activities have primarily focused on experimental nuclear astrophysics. He has conducted and participated in several deep underground cross section measurements at the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) facility. Most recently, he held the position of co-principal investigator for the Dual Ion Accelerator for Nuclear Astrophysics (DIANA) project at Lawrence Berkeley.

Dr. Lemut will continue his DIANA work at the Sanford laboratory in Lead. “In the short term, I foresee the opening of new research possibilities at the DIANA facility,” said Dr. Lemut, adding that DIANA is designed to attack the three nuclear astrophysics fundamental questions, including the source of solar neutrinos and the metallicity of the sun.

“The DIANA project is an ideal environment for involving students and post-docs in exciting, original and cutting-edge research in this field. Given the small scale of this laboratory, the students are offered a unique possibility to acquire skills in a multidisciplinary environment,” according to Dr. Lemut.

Dr. Lemut earned both his doctoral and university degrees in physics at Universita degli Studi di Genova, Italy.

Dr. Corwin led the deployment of neutrino beam simulations for the NOvA neutrino experiment and was deeply involved in establishing quality control procedures and standards for the majority of the material in NOvA, which is a Fermilab experiment to study neutrinos and their behavior, including the potential role that they played in the evolution of the universe.

At the School of Mines, Dr. Corwin will continue his involvement with NOvA and pursue analyses of neutrinos from the beam generated at Fermilab and from natural sources. He will join the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment, which will consist of the world’s most intense neutrino beam traveling hundreds of miles through the Earth’s mantle between the Fermilab outside of Chicago to the Sanford laboratory in Lead, a detector using liquid argon at Sanford and, possibly, a near detector at Fermilab.

At Fermilab, he was also a member of the MINOS collaborations, leading a project that has combined the results from beam and atmospheric neutrino data into the world’s best instruments. “I will extend these projects into exploiting the atmospheric capabilities of the NOvA experiment and planned LBNE experiment while vigorously pursuing the most interesting beam neutrino analyses on these experiments,” Dr. Corwin said.

Dr. Corwin earned his Ph.D. from The Ohio State University and his bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of Minnesota.

The university will add two other particle physicists next year in a structured growth of the new doctoral program, which, thanks in part to its close ties with the Sanford laboratory, is poised to become a leader in particle physics research.

“The Sanford Underground Research Facility holds a promise to become one of the biggest underground particle physics laboratories in the world,” said Andre Petukhov, Ph.D., head of SDSM&T’s Department of Physics. “This world-class facility will create unmatched opportunity for our students, and we envision many start-up companies around this lab.”

Additionally, Rafal Oszwaldowski, Ph.D., with the State University of New York at Buffalo will replace a retired physics faculty member and lead the effort in semiconductor spintronics and modeling of low background semiconductor detectors at the Sanford laboratory. He will join condensed matter physics research conducted by Dr. Petukhov; Robert Corey, Ph.D.; and Vladimir Sobolev, Ph.D.

Dr. Oszwaldowski also previously taught at N. Copernicus University in Torun, Poland, where he earned both his doctorate and master’s degree in theoretical physics. His primary research goal is to elucidate properties of dilute magnetic semiconductors and to develop quantitative approaches for various semiconductor nanostructures.

Six doctoral students of 12 applicants were accepted into the program this fall semester. The school will enroll six more by the next fall semester.

The new Ph.D. in physics will be offered at both the School of Mines and the University of South Dakota, with responsibility for course delivery shared between the two, as it has been for the past 15 years for the bachelor’s degree and four years for the master’s degree.

Research, however, will be separated on the two campuses, with Mines research primarily associated with the underground experiments at the Sanford facility, formerly the Homestake Gold Mine.

“Historically, the strength of our department has been in condensed matter physics, and we are retooling ourselves with a focus on detector development for particle physics. This is our contribution to the underground lab. We are still doing the same type of research but for a different purpose,” Dr. Petukhov said.

The Ph.D. program will make both SDSM&T and USD physics faculty members more competitive in the pursuit of external funding because they will be able to put together research groups that include doctoral students as well as postdoctoral researchers. In addition to supporting the state’s investment in SURF, the new doctorate program will bolster the state’s national and international reputation as a top location for physics research.


About SDSM&T
Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls more than 2,400 students from 32 countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The average starting salary for 2012 graduates was $62,696 with a 98 percent placement rate. Find us online at, on Facebook at and on Twitter at

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