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U.S. Department of Energy award goes to first-year master's student for matter-antimatter research

A first-year graduate student studying experimental nuclear physics has received a three-year, $151,500 award from the U.S. Department of Energy to further his education and research involving ultra-cold neutrons.

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IU Department of Physics graduate student Daniel Salvat will receive $151,500 from the U.S. Department of Energy over the next three years to further his education and research in the area of ultra-cold neutrons.

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Daniel Salvat, who completed a Bachelor of Science in both physics and mathematics at IU in 2008, is among the first class of Department of Energy Office of Science Graduate Fellowship award winners. He was one of 150 awardees from a group of more than 3,200 applicants who sought the new DOE fellowship geared towards young scientists and engineers whose work is hoped to make major contributions to national goals for energy, environment and scientific discovery and innovation.

"I will be working primarily on a measurement of the free neutron lifetime using ultra-cold neutrons at Los Alamos National Lab's Neutron Science Center," he said. "These low energy neutrons -- so-called ultra-cold neutrons (UCN) -- are sufficiently low in energy that one can trap them in material or magnetic traps and study their properties."

Ultra-cold neutrons are used for precision measurements to investigate the dominance of matter over antimatter in the universe. The standard model of particle physics predicts certain properties for the neutron, such as its beta decay lifetime and electric dipole moment, and ultra-cold neutrons facilitate precision measurements of these properties, and thus provide a test for the standard model.

"Measurements not predicted by the standard model would provide evidence that there must be physics beyond it," Salvat said. "This summer, I'll continue work on the (beta decay) lifetime experiment, but the exact details depend on scheduling, timing and any changes or further developments in the experimental plan."

Salvat is a research assistant and a first-year master's degree student on a Ph.D. track with IU Department of Physics Assistant Professor Chen-Yu Liu, who came to IU in 2005 after earning a Ph.D. in physics from Princeton in 2002. In 2001, Liu received the Distinguished Performance Award from Los Alamos National Laboratory for a breakthrough in applying solid deuterium as a superthermal ultra-cold neutron source by solving both theoretically and experimentally the decades-long problem of a short ultra-cold neutron lifetime. In doing so, she succeeded in constructing the most intense ultra-cold neutron source in the world.

Working with Liu, Salvat is currently involved with the investigation of solid oxygen as a source of ultra-cold neutrons. He is also leading a research project to study low-energy excitations of solid Nitrogen-15 and has been involved in a project at Los Alamos National Laboratory's Neutron Science Center characterizing drift tube detectors for a measurement of the free ultra-cold neutron lifetime.

Liu, in recommending Salvat for the fellowship, said he had a unique ability to tackle complex problems.

"Dan has shown great promise to become an outstanding experimental physicist," she said. "He has immense aptitude for problem solving both in theoretical and experimental work. He has never ceased to amaze me with the quality of questions he has raised and, even more, with his ability to find solutions on his own."

Salvat is expected to attend the DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship Research Conference to be held Aug. 8-10 at DOE's Argonne National Laboratory, in Argonne, Ill., just outside of Chicago. His initial 12-month appointment to the program begins Sept. 1, and the fellowship can be renewed for two following years.

The goal of the fellowship program is to encourage outstanding students to pursue graduate degrees in physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics, engineering, and environmental and computer sciences -- fields that will prepare students for careers that can make significant contributions in discovery-driven science and science for national needs in energy and the environment.

"Training the next generation of U.S. scientists and engineers is critical to our future energy security and economic competitiveness," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said last year when announcing $12.5 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to support the new DOE awards. "This Fellowship is part of the Administration's effort to encourage students to direct their talents towards careers in science and our nation's next technology revolution."

This news release first appeared May 6, 2010.