A Physics Landmark

Sanford Underground Research Facility is a physics landmark. In 1965, Dr. Ray Davis, a chemist from  Brookhaven National Laboratory, built his solar neutrino experiment on the 4850 Level of Homestake Mine. His search for the elusive particle worked, but something was missing. He found only one-third of the neutrinos predicted, which led to the Solar Neutrino Problem and caused a flurry in the scientific world. Dr. Takaaki Kajita with the Super-Kamiokande experiment in Japan was also instrumental in solving the solar neutrino problem and won a share of a Nobel Prize with Art McDonald from the SNO experiment. Finally, in the late 1990s, scientists at SNOlab in Canada, discovered that neutrinos oscillate, or change, as they travel through space. Davis’s experiment only detected one kind. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002 for his research.

Today's Experiments

Despite centuries of study and research, we know very little about the universe in which we live. How did we get here? Why is there something instead of nothing? How does our universe actually work? Scientists are seeking answers to these questions and more. It turns out Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) is the perfect place to find them. Sheltered by nearly a mile of rock, physics experiments find protection from cosmic rays that can interfere with their results.

In the quiet of the 4850 Level, the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment is searching for dark matter; the MAJORANA collaboration is trying to determine whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles; and CASPAR (Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research) is studying what happens in stars when they die.

Several other experiments in biology, engineering, and geology are housed at SURF as well. One experiment is developing a laser scanner that will be used to search for life on Mars, while another monitors the movement of rock in underground experiments. Future experiments include second-generation dark matter detectors and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which is trying to understand how—and why—neutrinos oscillate, or change flavors, as they travel through space. The experiment will shoot a beam of neutrinos 800 miles through the earth from Fermilab near Chicago to SURF.

Education Opportunities

South Dakota’s undergraduate and graduate students benefit from their proximity to the lab—some are part of the experiment collaborations, while others receive internships in engineering, science and communications.

Additionally, the Black Hills State University Underground Campus will house up to nine low-background counters and a clean room. The campus will serve students from across the state, giving them space to do their own research projects deep underground.

Photo Credits to South Dakota Science & Technology Authority