Mines News

Release Date Thursday, January 18, 2024

South Dakota Mines Student Lands Prestigious Italian Physics Fellowship

South Dakota Mines physics major Tristen Olsson was awarded a prestigious fellowship with the US Department of Energy and National Institute for Nuclear Physics - Italy Summer Exchange Program. Here he is posing in front of the XENON1T experiment in the Gran Sasso National Laboratory outside of Rome. 

South Dakota Mines senior physics major Tristen Olsson was awarded a fellowship in the prestigious U.S. Department of Energy and National Institute for Nuclear Physics - Italy Summer Exchange Program

Olsson spent two months - September and October of 2023 - in Italy assisting in astrophysics research at Sapienza University in Rome and at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory located 100 miles east of Rome. 

Gran Sasso is one of the largest underground laboratories in the world devoted to neutrino and astroparticle physics. 

Frank Strieder, Ph.D., associate head of the South Dakota Mines Department of Physics, said Olsson was one of just 11 students across the United States chosen for the fellowship. “It’s quite an accomplishment. He’s a great student,” he says of Olsson. 

Olsson, who is originally from Spearfish, said the experience was life-changing, both for the professional research piece and the opportunity to be immersed in another culture. 

“I was kind of on my own, which was a new experience having gone to school so close to home,” he says. He was required to find his own housing and manage his day-to-day activities outside of his work at the university and lab. As someone who doesn’t speak Italian, it was a challenge but Olsson says it was a wonderful experience he will cherish. 

As a student at South Dakota Mines, Olsson has had the opportunity to participate in CASPAR research through the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead. CASPAR, which stands for Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research, is a low-energy particle accelerator that allows researchers to study processes that occur inside stars. SURF is the deepest underground laboratory in the United States and among the deepest in the world. Nearly a mile underground, SURF is home to experiments in physics, biology, geology and engineering.  

In Italy, Olsson participated in research that is the “sister experiment to CASPAR” happening at the Laboratory for Underground Nuclear Astrophysics (LUNA) at Gran Sasso National Laboratory.  

CASPAR and LUNA are two of only three deep underground accelerators in the world studying stellar environments. LUNA has been in existence for 25 years, and Strieder, who is a principal investigator for CASPAR, previously worked on LUNA for 22 years. 

Olsson spent time at both the Sapenzia University and the underground lab, assisting with data collection and analysis. “My time in the lab was my favorite part of the whole thing,” he says. “The mountains (where the lab was located) were beautiful, the physics facilities amazing and even the food in the lab was good.”

Olsson, who will graduate in May from Mines, is currently applying for graduate programs at universities in the United States. He hopes to have a career in physics research someday. “Astrophysics research is kind of my dream career,” he says. 

He also hopes to return to Europe someday, either in a professional capacity or as a visitor. “I’d love to go back to Italy and Europe,” he says. “And I’d have no qualms about doing physics in Europe or elsewhere.”  


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Gray Hughes, 605-394-2554, Gray.Hughes@sdsmt.edu