Projects build research capacity and pipeline for regional institutions

DOE FAIR awards partner Los Alamos with minority-serving and emerging research institutions

August 30, 2023

Los Alamos National Laboratory is partnering with five different institutions from New Mexico and beyond to expand research capacity at those institutions and bring more undergraduate and graduate students into research.

The partnerships are spurred by the Department of Energy Office of Science’s Funding for Accelerated, Inclusive Research (FAIR) program, which “aims to build research capacity, infrastructure, and expertise” at minority-serving or emerging research institutions by partnering them with established research organizations to conduct basic science research.

The projects

The collaboration “Bringing Experimental High-energy Nuclear Physics to Navajo Nation” finds Cesar Luiz da Silva, Los Alamos physicist, partnering with Abraham Meles, associate professor at Navajo Technical University, in Crownpoint. They will train students at the public tribal university to deal with contamination from abandoned uranium mines in Navajo country and help build a diverse workforce for future DOE programs in nuclear physics. The program will equip Navajo Tech labs with radiation detectors for lab experiments and a detector assembly lab for a particle tracker to be installed at an experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN). Navajo Tech students will go to the Large Hadron Collider beauty experiment at CERN as the first indigenous college to participate in a major, international high-energy physics collaboration.

Prashant Padmanabhan, a scientist at the Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Los Alamos National Laboratory, partners with the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology team of Sanchari Chowdhury (principal investigator) and Pabitra Choudhury, both associate professors of chemical engineering, on a project to study materials for catalytic reactions. The “Light Mediated Synthesis of Single Atom Alloy Catalysts” project aims to develop a new method to synthesize nanoscale alloy catalysts as part of a system to enhance different catalytic reactions, including carbon dioxide reduction, hydrogen generation and solar energy conversion. Two doctoral and one master’s student will work on the project. They will get hands-on experience at Los Alamos in the development and use of broad-spectrum time-resolved absorption spectroscopy to study photoexcited charge carrier dynamics.

Jon Schwenk, scientist at Los Alamos, is teaming up with Tian Dong, assistant professor at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, on the project “Evaluating water, sediment, and nutrient transport rates and accumulation patterns in alluvial ridge basins between the abandoned river channels (resacas) of the Rio Grande delta.” The project will bring up to five locally recruited UTRGV graduate students into research that seeks to understand how materials and mass accumulate in the alluvial ridge basins between delta channels. That will bring important insight about a place where the impacts of climate change and natural disasters are keenly felt and impact the local historically underrepresented communities. At UTRGV, 92% of students are Hispanic, and two-thirds are first-generation college students.

A Nuclear Physics office-funded partnership between Los Alamos and New Mexico State University will build a robust collaboration to make nuclear theory accessible to the diverse population of graduate and undergraduate students at NMSU, a Hispanic-serving institution. The focus on jet physics, which describes the spray of elementary particles from high-energy heavy ion collisions, helps understand the phenomenon of quark-gluon plasma formation, a novel state of nuclear matter that may pertain to the origins of visible matter. At Los Alamos, scientist Ivan Vitev and his research group will provide training and mentorship, research supervision and support, access to unique technical expertise, digital data and computational resources. Matthew Sievert, NMSU assistant professor, is the principal investigator.

A collaboration between Los Alamos scientist Jianxin Zhu and Armin Rahmani, associate professor at Western Washington University, will explore the emergent properties and interaction of Majorana fermions using high-performance computing and noisy intermediate-scale quantum computing. Majorana fermions are fundamental counterparts of ordinary electrons but have also been interesting because of their potential for topological quantum computing. The project will support a postdoctoral student and an undergraduate on the research, including a paid summer internship at Los Alamos for the undergraduate student. The project will build infrastructure for advanced research at WWU, primarily an undergraduate institution. It will provide educational opportunities for students from underrepresented groups to gain experience on solving challenging fundamental science problems.