NASA gives $2M grant for WSU professor to study the sun

KSN Digital Extra

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — NASA has awarded a Wichita State University professor of physics a $2 million grant to study the sun.

Neutrinos are super small particles that we are not able to be seen by the naked eye, but these particles are able to tell scientists a lot about the inside of the sun.

“I have been studying particle physics since I was 17 years old,” said Dr. Nick Solomey.

Dr. Solomey has a life-long passion for neutrinos and the information they can gather. These tiny particles give scientists a peek at the inside of the sun.

“Instead of building bigger and bigger detectors we should go really close to the sun,” said Dr. Solomey.

The more than million dollar idea is now moving forward with the help of a NASA grant.

“We have to prove this equipment can work in space,” said Dr. Solomey.

While the goal is for the space craft to travel close to the sun with the neutrino detector inside, for now Dr. Solomey must prove it will work.

“We proposed a cube-set that would fly around the earth,” said Dr. Solomey.

With the help of students Dr. Solomey is beginning to plan out exactly how this cube-set will work.

“It’s 10 centimeters, and it is about 30 centimeters long that is about the size of a loaf of bread and in that about a 3rd of that would be the test detector,” said Solomey.

If the research team is able to make this cube-set work around the earth, the next stop is closer to the sun, an exciting opportunity for Grad student Johnathan Folkerts.

“It’s really cool to be a part of this and working with NASA on a project,” said Folkerts.

“Can we make something that can and place it somewhere NASA can place it very uniquely that would open up new eyes to the whole universe in a new way,” said Dr. Solomey.

Dr. Solomey said if research continues to go as planned he hopes to have the opportunity to get the neutrino detector in space in about 8 years.

According to NASA, “neutrinos are one of the most abundant particles in the universe but are challenging to study since they rarely interact with matter. Therefore, large and sensitive Earth-based detectors are best suited to detect them.”

Solomey’s grant is one of five grants NASA announced earlier this month from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

Solomey previously received a Phase II grant from NASA. His research showed the technology could work in space, explore different mission flight paths, and develop an early neutrino detector prototype. Solomey will prepare a flight-ready detector with the Phase III grant that could be tested on a Cube-sat.

The $2 million will fund graduate research assistants and equipment and travel related for Wichita State and its two partner universities — South Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota – which were awarded sub-grants.

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