McTaggart receives NASA Summer Faculty Fellowship

South Dakota State University’s Robert McTaggart, an associate professor in the Department of Physics, has been awarded a 10-week Summer Faculty Fellowship by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center to collaborate with researchers in Huntsville, Alabama, on the uses of neutron detection in space. He starts May 30.

The primary use of the neutron detector design has so far been in neutron dosimetry. Protons in the solar wind interact with the shell of the International Space Station or other vehicles, which results in the production of secondary neutrons. McTaggart said because neutrons generate up to 25 percent of an astronaut’s total radiation dose, accurate and timely measurements are necessary in low Earth orbit. If one wants to go to Mars, monitoring radiation doses becomes critical. The same technology can also detect particle emissions from the sun, which in turn supports interests in heliophysics and the sun’s influence on space weather.

Kyle Schroeder (foreground) and Ryan Michel (background) are in the nuclear laboratory helping South Dakota State University Associate Professor Robert McTaggart calibrate the high-purity germanium detector for use in the gamma spectroscopy analysis of naturally occurring radioactivity in a soil sample. McTaggart will start his second-straight NASA Summer Faculty Fellowship later this month.

“On one hand, I am supporting health physics for astronauts, and on the other, I am studying particle astrophysics,” McTaggart said. “However, the largest impact may come from incorporating this knowledge into the health physics and nuclear engineering classes I teach and the variety of experiential learning opportunities I will be able to help students pursue.”

“We’re quite proud that he’s gotten these fellowships,” said Joel Rauber, the physics department head. “It fits in well with our nuclear engineering minor, which he coordinates. We hope he is able to bring some of that knowledge gained to the classroom. Some of what he is doing may also convert into future grants that will benefit our students who work with him.”


About South Dakota State University
Founded in 1881, South Dakota State University is the state’s Morrill Act land-grant institution as well as its largest, most comprehensive school of higher education. SDSU confers degrees from six different colleges representing nearly 200 majors, minors and specializations. The institution also offers 35 master’s degree programs, 15 Ph.D. and two professional programs.

The work of the university is carried out on a residential campus in Brookings, at sites in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City, and through Extension offices and Agricultural Experiment Station research sites across the state.