National Science Foundation Awards Augustana Faculty More Than $595K for Physics Research Through 2026

By Jill Wilson | April 16, 2024
Eric Wells Physics

The university is excited to announce that the Augustana Physics Department has secured more than $595,000 in grant renewals from the Mathematics and Physical Science Division of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) for undergraduate research. The funding will help sustain excellence, facilitate growth and cultivate innovative and impactful teaching, learning and research — a goal put forth in Augustana’s strategic plan Viking Bold: The Journey to 2023.


The NSF has awarded Augustana three faculty separate, competitively peer-reviewed grants in which they are principal investigators. The funding will support a minimum of 18 student summer research positions over the next three years.


Associate Professor of Physics Dr. Nathan Grau was awarded $176,619 through 2026 to fund his research entitled, “Studying the Strong Nuclear Force at Augustana University.” Grau is a member of three large nuclear physics collaborations, including the Phenix, sPhenix and ePIC. All these experiments investigate the properties of the strong force, which holds atomic nuclei together.


Professor of Physics Dr. Drew Alton received $202,015 over the next three years for his proposal, “The Darkside Dark-Matter Search Using Liquid Argon.” Alton and his students participate in the international Darkside collaboration, which carries out experiments searching for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), which may be the source of the unknown mass that permeates the universe.


Professor of Physics Dr. Eric Wells was awarded a $216,613 grant for “Strong-Field Control of Intramolecular Dynamics in Polyatomic Molecules” through 2026. This research examines how ultrashort laser pulses can influence the behavior of individual molecules. Wells is also the principal investigator of a collaborative proposal with Kansas State University, Michigan State University, the University of Virginia and University of Mary Washington to enhance detection of ions in molecular imaging.


Faculty members within the Augustana Physics Department have a long history of receiving funding through the NSF for their research. Grau has received NSF funding since 2013, Alton since 2010 and Wells since 2006. In 2017, the department was also recognized by the American Physical Society (APS) for Improving Undergraduate Physics Education.

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