Headshots of Davis Bahcall Scholars

2023 Davis-Bahcall Scholars. From left to right, top: Ike-Njoku Theresa Ahunna, Grace Davis, Joseph Bumann, Cara Ronish. Bottom: Laura Jensen, Connor Matthies, William Kuhl, Sophie Schmid. Photos courtesy scholars. 

SURF announces 2023 Davis-Bahcall Scholars, return to full international program

Through the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program, students explore the world of modern scientific research

The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) has announced the 2023 Davis-Bahcall Scholars. The program is a once-in-a-lifetime, all-expense-paid opportunity that connects science-curious students with peers and mentors while exploring the modern world of STEM research.

“The Davis-Bahcall program introduces students to a variety of STEM disciplines and can be helpful to them in deciding on their major in college,” said Brianna Mount, associate professor of physics at Black Hills State University (BHSU). “It comes at a point in their education where they are choosing their future career path. It’s a critical time because they get exposed to many different disciplines and learn early in their education what professionals do every day, whether in science, engineering or another STEM field.”

This year’s Davis-Bahcall Scholars are Joseph Bumann, a senior at Washington High School; Grace Davis, a senior at Brookings High School; Ike-Njoku Theresa Ahunna, a freshman at Augustana University; Laura Jensen, a senior at Rapid City Central High School; William Kuhl; a freshman at South Dakota Mines; Connor Matthies, a freshman at South Dakota State University; Cara Ronish, a senior at Hill City High School; and Sophie Schmid, a senior at Stevens High School.

“My passion for mathematics and physics has always revolved around the beauty and complexity of numbers and equations,” said Theresa Ahunna. “Both fields constantly offer me an opportunity to combine creativity and logic whenever I am faced with a problem set, and they continue to challenge me in ways only a few subjects can. During the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program, I look forward to exploring ways my interest in these two fields can enrich my knowledge in a variety of other areas.”

Designed to help rising university freshmen and sophomores entering STEM fields develop an understanding of where their passions could take them, the program demystifies these subjects by exposing students to what professionals do every day.

Scholars will spend four weeks exploring leading universities and laboratories including the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota; Argonne National Laboratory and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois; and Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 program was postponed, and programs in 2021 and 2022 did not include international travel. This year, however, organizers are excited to return to the full program, which includes one week in Italy and a tour of the Gran Sasso National Laboratory.

“Every year is an exciting year for Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program,” said Deb Wolf, director of Outreach and Culture. “This year, in particular, is exciting, because we can finally return to the full experience.”

“There is always something to discover in science and that has always piqued my interest,” said Bumann. “I decided to apply to this program to get a better feel of what STEM jobs look like, and to have the opportunity to travel and meet new people.”

“I applied for this program to experience the real world of science research, and I couldn't be more excited to find out what life in the scientific community is like!” said Davis. “This program is such an amazing opportunity to delve deep into the science I love with like-minded peers and mentors, and I'm so grateful to the SURF community for making this possible for me and my fellow scholars. I cannot wait to begin this program!”

Since 2009, 148 students have participated in SURF’s Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program. The program is named in honor of experimental physicist Ray Davis Jr. and theoretical physicist John Bahcall. Davis, who built his experiment at the 4850 Level of the Homestake Mine, received the Nobel Prize in 2002 for his groundbreaking solar neutrino research. Bahcall developed the theoretical model of the Sun and of solar neutrino production, which guided Davis’ research. What began as a physics-oriented learning experience has evolved to include students with interests in a variety of STEM fields.

This program is supported by the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, First PREMIER Bank, the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium, and BHSU. Learn more about the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program.