CSU Physics Faculty Awarded National Science Foundation Grant

Faculty will develop state-of-the-art technology to explore the El Castillo pyramid in Mexico.

Chicago, Illinois – Chicago State University’s (CSU) Physics Department is leading research in cutting-edge technology along with Dominican University (DU) through a $646,093 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to map archaeological pyramid structures in Mexico. The four-year grant also allows CSU, a U.S. Department of Education designated Predominantly Black Institution, to join forces with DU, a Hispanic-serving University, in increasing the number of underrepresented students in STEM disciplines and research.

“The National Science Foundation grant allows CSU to advance non-intrusive remote sensing techniques in the areas of Physics and Archaeology with findings applicable to national security, geology, and the private sector,” said Dr. Edmundo Garcia-Solis, Professor of Physics and Chair Department of Chemistry, Physics and Engineering Studies at Chicago State University.

Scientific Research

The faculty members leading the research are Dr. Edmundo Garcia-Solis and Dr. Austin Harton, CSU Professor of Physics and Engineering. They will work with Dr. Joseph Sagerer, Senior Physics Lecturer at DU; Dr. Mark Adams, UIC professor emeritus, currently working at Fermilab; Sten Hansen, electrical engineer recently retired from Fermilab; and their collaborators based in Mexico: Dr. Eduardo Pérez de Heredia, archaeologist, director of Frecuencia Cero Technology for Conservation, and M.Sc. José F. Osorio León, chief archaeologist at Chichen Itza. This multidisciplinary and international team will develop hardware, electronics, and data analysis tools to measure the quantity and direction of the atmospheric muons that go through archaeological structures. These measurements will allow the mapping of cavities inside these structures and possibly unearth chambers previously undetected. After completing the detection system at CSU and DU, the team will travel to Mexico for the one-year-long exploration of el Castillo pyramid at the archaeological site of Chichen Itza.

“We will build imaging capabilities using a complementary technique that utilizes the transmission of atmospheric muons through ancient pyramids. The tracker detector that we are building will locate variations in the density in regions as small as one cubic meter situated inside a large structure,” said Dr. Garcia-Solis.

The applications of muon radiography go beyond archaeometry. Scientists can use the technology in geology to monitor the lava domes inside volcanoes; in national security to determine the presence of the heavy materials inside containers; and in the private sector to image the inner structure of inaccessible structures like nuclear reactors. 

Diversifying the STEM Fields 

The grant will help recruit, retain, and educate science and mathematics students and teachers critical to advancing scientific literacy, maintaining economic growth, and continuing scientific discoveries. As a result of the program, CSU students will graduate with knowledge of the latest practices and technology in various fields where they are traditionally underrepresented.  

“We are ecstatic to receive funding for the next four years from the National Science Foundation for this fascinating project. The award enables CSU’s Physics department to continue providing students with opportunities to perform cutting-edge research while allowing them to put into practice the skills they’ve learned in the classroom,” said Dr. Austin Harton, Associate Professor of Physics and Engineering at CSU.  

This aligns with other actions CSU is taking to make the teaching and learning of science more welcoming and effective for students underrepresented in STEM disciplines. CSU has made substantial commitment to science instruction and research, including by building an advanced physical science classroom. 

“This research puts CSU, our students, and our research at the forefront archaeometry,” said Leslie Roundtree, DHS., Interim Provost & Senior Vice President, Chicago State University. “The grant is recognition of the Physics Department’s research innovation, strong partnerships and CSU’s track record of success to developing Black and Latinx students in the STEAM fields.”