ALUMNUS Spring 2022 - Mississippi State University

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SMALL PURCHASE LAUNCHES BIG IDEA

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hen Ben Crider came to Mississippi State as an assistant professor of nuclear physics in 2017, he knew he wanted to continue his research on the structure of atomic nuclei. Building off his work as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory in Michigan, he quickly began to target funding from agencies that would be interested in his drive to understand what causes a nucleus to take different shapes. However, he also had a secondary line of research he wanted to pursue—non-destructive neutron scattering and capture using cadmium isotopes, a topic that has ramifications for nuclear industry safeguards. The research requires very small, enriched isotopes and a high-intensity beam that can be found at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Fortunately for Crider, he joined MSU the same year the College of Arts and Sciences launched a Strategic Research Initiative program to fund projects up to $10,000 in hopes of boosting future opportunities. The new professor jumped at the chance and secured enough funding to purchase the specialized isotopes and travel to New Mexico to conduct the experiments. “There aren’t a whole lot of avenues for research funding that is meant to be developmental,” Crider said. “When you propose something to a funding agency, it has to be

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a fully fleshed-out idea. The funding from the College of Arts and Sciences allowed me to try my idea and see what happens. That kind of support encourages good ideas and good things to happen.” For Crider, there were several good things that came from MSU’s $10,000 investment. Because the cadmium isotopes are being studied in a non-destructive way, they have been used for multiple projects, including dissertation research for two graduate students. Because of the success of his initial work, Crider was able to receive more than $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy for two separate projects. The new projects also take advantage of connections Crider made while carrying out his initial research at Los Alamos. “When a funding agency looks at your proposal, it wants to see that you’re the right person to do the project,” Crider said. “Because I already had data sets on hand and letters of support from people at Los Alamos, I had a much more compelling argument for saying, ‘Yes, I am the right person to do this.’ Statistically, there’s a small chance of getting funded when you go after federal grants, even if it’s a great idea. This seed program really helps to more fully develop an idea and give you a better chance to get bigger funding.”

Assistant professor of nuclear physics Ben Crider, left, used seed funding from the College of Arts and Sciences to conduct experiments using specialized isotopes, leading to new research opportunities for Crider and graduate students like Kofi AssuminGyimah, a doctoral student in engineering from Gaithersburg, Maryland.