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Ohio Wesleyan Receives Physics Instrumentation Grant for Study of Highly Exotic Nuclei

September 29, 2009

The MoNA Array
Photo courtesy of the MoNA Collaboration, National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory, Michigan State University
DELAWARE, OH – For the first time at Ohio Wesleyan University, physics students will have the opportunity to assist in the construction of a large neutron detector array used to study short-lived (exotic) atomic nuclei through funding from a $145,753 Major Research Instrumentation (MRI) grant from the National Science Foundation. These rare isotopes do not exist on earth—but are in our universe as a part of nuclear reactions within stars or on the crust of neutron stars. The study of these exotic nuclei is crucial to the understanding of how heavier elements are formed in stellar reactions.

Ohio Wesleyan recently became part of the MoNA (Modular Neutron Array) Collaboration, which began as a result of funding from a previous MRI grant.  This new MRI grant will provide the funding to nearly double the size of the existing array through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in February.

“This project provides an opportunity for Ohio Wesleyan students to participate in the construction, testing, and commissioning of an instrument that will be a crucial tool in the understanding of the structure of atomic nuclei at the very limits of what can be studied in the laboratory,” says Bob Kaye Ph.D., associate professor of physics and astronomy and principal investigator for the OWU grant. “It also paves the way for future undergraduate students to collaborate on research projects with international teams of scientists at a world-class particle accelerator facility.”

The two year project will begin this fall with the ordering of components  needed to build 16 complete neutron detector modules—each about 6 ½ feet long, 4 inches wide, and 4 inches tall. Construction and testing of the modules will occur throughout this academic year.

In summer 2010 the detector modules will be transported to Michigan State University, where they will be combined with modules constructed at eight other undergraduate institutions to fabricate the Large area multi-Institutional Scintillator Array (LISA). The other MoNA institutions include: Central Michigan University, Concordia College, Gettysburg College, Hope College, Indiana University-South Bend, Rhodes College, Wabash College, and Westmont College.

The receipt of this grant continues the trend of national recognition for OWU’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. The national Society of Physics Students (SPS) recently awarded OWU’s SPS chapter with the Blake Lilly Prize for community outreach work with area schools. The chapter also received an “Outstanding SPS Chapter” award for the 2007-2008 academic year.

Ohio Wesleyan University is an undergraduate liberal arts college that transforms the lives of its students through a combination of rigorous academics, mentoring relationships, and real-world experiences. Featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” the private university’s 1,850 students come from 45 states and 39 countries. Visit www.owu.edu for more information.