Renshaw Wins Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research

Assistant Professor Involved in Numerous International Collaborations

Every year, the University of Houston College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics awards a faculty member at the rank of assistant professor the NSM Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research.

Andrew Renshaw
Andrew Renshaw accepted the Junior Faculty Award for Excellence in Research at the May 2021 NSM commencement ceremony.

The award was created in 2015 to recognize faculty for their great potential in research and scholarship as shown by the exceptional quality of their contributions.

Nominated by his peers, Andrew Renshaw, assistant professor of physics, received the 2021 award, along with a $5,000 check and plaque.

“I feel very honored,” said Renshaw. “I know there are many other talented researchers within NSM and even just within the physics department. For my department to put me up as a nominee, that was already really great. It’s very humbling they consider me at this level, because I consider some of my colleagues to be at the very top level of what they do.”

Renshaw also received the 2021 University of Houston Award for Excellence in Research, Scholarship or Creative Activity for an assistant professor.

Moores Professor of physics Lawrence Pinsky writes in his nomination letter for the Butler award, Renshaw’s “research program in fundamental science is experimental in nature, focusing on the development, construction, operations and data analysis of advanced particle detectors capable of detecting neutrinos and searching for dark matter.”

Renshaw is involved in and a prominent leader of numerous international collaborations. He’s a founding member of the HUNTER Collaboration (Heavy Unseen Neutrinos from Total Energy-momentum Reconstruction), which will search for heavy sterile neutrinos that could explain the existence of dark matter.

He is also a member of the DUNE neutrino experiment. His research group at UH is responsible for the development and fabrication of a liquid argon purity monitoring system for the detectors.

But the project he is most involved with and has the most funding for is DarkSide, which searches for dark matter, as well as for neutrinos from the sun and supernova bursts.

Medical Applications Within DarkSide

Last year, when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, members of the DarkSide team used their expertise in gas control to design a mechanical ventilator made from readily available components. It received FDA approval.

Renshaw continues to pursue research applicability in the medical field. He and his graduate student Alejandro Ramirez, who recently received an NSF Graduate Student Fellowship, are taking the same detector technology from DarkSide and applying it to medical positron emission tomography or PET scanning. They are using liquid argon as the detection medium instead of crystals traditionally used to detect medical conditions.

“Liquid argon is a cryogen, so it has to be cooled,” said Renshaw. “The nice thing is that if you have electronics that work at cryogenic temperatures, you get the cooling of the electronics for free. You don’t have to worry about the heating up of the system like you would with the original scanners.”

Renshaw is working to have one of these scanners, dubbed 3Dπ, standing for 3D Positron Imaging, built to use at UH and the Texas Medical Center.

Leading Work Within DarkSide

Renshaw has also garnered the esteem of colleagues in the particle physics community, including Queen’s University Professor Emeritus Arthur B. McDonald, co-recipient of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics.

He writes in his letter of recommendation, “I have witnessed Professor Renshaw’s leadership during the development of the DarkSide-20K experiment over the past 3 years and am very impressed with his ability, creativity and performance on the experimental team.”

McDonald explains Renshaw and his postdoctoral fellow Paolo Agnes have been leading work on detector simulation, “exhibiting both strong physics and computing ability. This timely, and innovative work, providing leadership in a 350-scientist international collaboration is a major factor in my recommendation of Andrew for the award.”

When asked about his future research career, Renshaw says he plans to see the projects he is working on come to real fruition, including the construction of the next dark side detector, and looks forward to being able to get data from it and analyze it.

Renshaw thanks his letter writers, the physics department for its nomination and his official nominator Lawrence Pinsky for submitting the paperwork.

- Rebeca Trejo, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics