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ISU Alumnus Wins Jefferson Science Associates Thesis Prize

August 10, 2022

Devi Lal Adhikari

A Idaho State University alum’s work while on-campus has netted him one of the most prestigious awards from the Department of Energy’s Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. 

Recently, Devi Lal Adhikari was named the 2021 Jefferson Science Associates Thesis Prize winner. His award-winning dissertation, “Neutron Skin Measurement of 208Pb Using Parity-Violating Electron Scattering,” was written while earning his doctorate in Physics from Idaho State University.
For his thesis, Adhikari measured the thickness of the layer of neutrons that encircle the nucleus of the atoms of the Lead-208 isotope. Getting the measurement of the never-measured-before neutron skin layer was the main goal of the experiment, called PREX-II. The experiment provided a wealth of information on the structure of atomic nuclei and neutron stars.
“Both of them are neutron-rich and they have a mathematical connection,” Adhikari said in a news release from the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. “So the measurement that we make in the neutron-rich nucleus can give us an idea of that giant neutron star.”  
Adhikari joined the Bengal family in the fall of 2015, spending the next three years working in the lab of Dustin McNulty, professor of physics and current department chair. While in Pocatello and working on his doctorate, Adhikari prepared for the experiments that would ultimately become part of his thesis. He also completed research and development-related projects for McNulty’s lab, including constructing particle detector prototypes and performing cosmic ray testing.  
“It was truly a joy to work with Devi, and I was beyond thrilled when I heard he won the Thesis Prize,” said McNulty. “While Devi was at ISU, I was constantly amazed at his work ethic and dedication to science. It’s been an honor to watch him develop into the physicist he’s become, and I am proud to have an ISU Physics alum join the ranks of these accomplished scientists.” 
In 2018, Adhikari moved to Virginia to complete the PREX-II experiments at the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility. In 2021, the results of his experiments were published in Physical Review Letters. He’s remained in Virginia and is currently working on nuclear and particle physics experiments as a postdoctoral associate at Virginia Tech. At Virginia Tech, he’s responsible for the overall planning and development of the Measurement of a Lepton-Lepton Electroweak Reaction (MOLLER) experiment. He also designs, constructs, and tests the various particle detectors used in the MOLLER experiment.  
“Choosing ISU for my graduate studies and Professor McNulty as my advisor were two of the best decisions I have made in my life,” said Adhikari. “While at ISU, I developed skills in detector construction, testing, operations, planning and running experiments, and data analysis. Professor McNulty has been very supportive and clearly explains what needs to be done. His timely advice and supportive follow-ups on my work continue to encourage me to work hard and, ultimately, produce good results.”
Candidates for the JSA Thesis Prize “are nominated by senior scientists with the support of three letters of recommendation. Judges weigh four criteria: the quality of the written work, the student’s contribution to the research, the work’s impact on the field of physics, and service — how the work contributes to Jefferson Lab or other experiments. The prize includes a $2,500 cash award and a commemorative plaque.” The JSA Thesis Prize was started in 1999 “to reward the top Ph.D. thesis on research related to Jefferson Lab science”  
For more information on ISU’s Department of Physics, visit


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