From Rapid City Journal via SURF: “DUNE will be SD’s largest project ever”

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Sanford Underground levels

Sanford Underground Research facility

Rapid City Journal

Jun 13, 2015
Tom Griffith Journal staff


Hundreds of scientists from around the world are patiently awaiting the start of a billion-dollar experiment that, in a scene straight out of a science fiction movie, will fire a beam of tiny neutrinos from a laboratory near Chicago that will carry the subatomic particles a mile underground and 800 miles away in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

By itself, the $300 million investment for the experiment at the Sanford Lab in Lead represents the largest single project in the history of South Dakota. And, project advocates say the experiment has the potential to advance scientific knowledge and yield technological advancements on a par with the race to the moon in the 1960s.

“The people I interact with refer to this as one of the most significant particle-physics experiments that has or likely will ever occur on U.S. soil,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the South Dakota Science & Technology Authority, which manages the Sanford Underground Research Facility. “No one I know can remember a project of this scale that has been executed in this state.”

At its core, the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and the associated Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), will send a beam of neutrinos through the earth from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory near Batavia, Ill., to the Sanford Lab in western South Dakota, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Having very little mass and no electric charge, neutrinos pass through ordinary matter nearly undisturbed — they can pass through 100 million miles of lead without stopping — and they continuously pass through the earth and our bodies, scientists say.

In Illinois, project leaders plan to build four structures on the Fermilab site. One building would be connected via a vertical shaft to an underground hall about 200 feet below the Fermilab. The project also would include the construction of a 50- to 60-foot-high hill on the Fermi site as part of the facility that would create the neutrinos, according to the DOE.

In South Dakota, project leaders plan to construct one building at the surface adjacent to an existing building near the Ross Shaft. About one mile underground, the project would include three large caverns, each about 60 feet wide and 500 feet long. These caverns would provide space for utilities and four large detectors filled with liquid argon to detect the neutrinos fired from Fermi, Headley explained.

Particle detectors at Sanford Lab would record neutrinos from the Fermilab and measure their properties. They also would look for neutrinos from a supernova and search for signs of nucleon decay. With the data, scientists aim to learn more about the building blocks of matter and determine the exact role that neutrinos play in the universe, he said.

“I’m a South Dakota kid, from Brookings originally, so to have an opportunity to be part of an international team doing this in my home state is really amazing,” Headley said. “It’s really cool.”

Michael Weis, Fermi site office manager for the DOE, said on Friday that the DUNE international collaboration includes 776 scientists from 144 institutions and 26 nations, and it is still growing.

“The number of partners in this project is not unprecedented as high-energy physics experiments have historically involved large collaborations, most recently with the Large Hadron Collider experiments at the CERN laboratory in Europe,” Weis said. “The significance here is that a large number of scientists in the international community want to build and conduct an experiment at a facility here in the United States. This means that the U.S. has an opportunity to host a world-class science facility of this scale, and an international `megascience project’ for the first time.”

Years in the making, scientists behind the project have exhibited remarkable patience in its development, and must remain patient to realize the potential of the experiment. According to Weis, the preliminary schedule estimates facility construction could start at the Sanford Lab as early as 2017, and be completed in the mid-2020s. Installation of the experiment into the facility could begin as early as 2021 and continue for a few years beyond this, he said, while the experiment duration is estimated to be 20 years. LBNF/DUNE is being funded by the DOE, as well as the international cast of collaborators.

Headley said the significance of the experiment to the scientific community, the State of South Dakota, and the nation, could not be understated.

Last year, an important DOE scientific review panel called the “Particle Physics Project Prioritization Panel,” or P5, identified the experiment as a top priority for U.S. particle physics, recommending it be planned as an international effort in order to achieve the greatest scientific capability, Headley explained. DUNE represents the convergence of several formerly independent worldwide efforts around the opportunity provided by a new neutrino beam facility planned at the Fermilab and by the new and significant expansion at Sanford Lab, he said.

“If you look at all the effort and research and development that allowed us to go to the moon, these are the type of technologies that have the potential to power our economy and make us globally competitive into the future,” Headley said. “In terms of science, this experiment is on the level of the Higgs Boson. The answers to some of the questions this experiment will address will be competitive for a Nobel Prize.”

And yet, Headley acknowledged, “It’s going to lead to more questions, some of which we haven’t yet thought of.”

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About us.
The Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, South Dakota, advances our understanding of the universe by providing laboratory space deep underground, where sensitive physics experiments can be shielded from cosmic radiation. Researchers at the Sanford Lab explore some of the most challenging questions facing 21st century physics, such as the origin of matter, the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos. The facility also hosts experiments in other disciplines—including geology, biology and engineering.

The Sanford Lab is located at the former Homestake gold mine, which was a physics landmark long before being converted into a dedicated science facility. Nuclear chemist Ray Davis earned a share of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2002 for a solar neutrino experiment he installed 4,850 feet underground in the mine.

Homestake closed in 2003, but the company donated the property to South Dakota in 2006 for use as an underground laboratory. That same year, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford donated $70 million to the project. The South Dakota Legislature also created the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority to operate the lab. The state Legislature has committed more than $40 million in state funds to the project, and South Dakota also obtained a $10 million Community Development Block Grant to help rehabilitate the facility.

In 2007, after the National Science Foundation named Homestake as the preferred site for a proposed national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) began reopening the former gold mine.

In December 2010, the National Science Board decided not to fund further design of DUSEL. However, in 2011 the Department of Energy, through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, agreed to support ongoing science operations at Sanford Lab, while investigating how to use the underground research facility for other longer-term experiments. The SDSTA, which owns Sanford Lab, continues to operate the facility under that agreement with Berkeley Lab.

The first two major physics experiments at the Sanford Lab are 4,850 feet underground in an area called the Davis Campus, named for the late Ray Davis. The Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment is housed in the same cavern excavated for Ray Davis’s experiment in the 1960s.
LUX/Dark matter experiment at SURFLUX/Dark matter experiment at SURF

In October 2013, after an initial run of 80 days, LUX was determined to be the most sensitive detector yet to search for dark matter—a mysterious, yet-to-be-detected substance thought to be the most prevalent matter in the universe. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment, also on the 4850 Level, is searching for a rare phenomenon called “neutrinoless double-beta decay” that could reveal whether subatomic particles called neutrinos can be their own antiparticle. Detection of neutrinoless double-beta decay could help determine why matter prevailed over antimatter. The Majorana Demonstrator experiment is adjacent to the original Davis cavern.

Another major experiment, the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE)—a collaboration with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and Sanford Lab, is in the preliminary design stages. The project got a major boost last year when Congress approved and the president signed an Omnibus Appropriations bill that will fund LBNE operations through FY 2014. Called the “next frontier of particle physics,” LBNE will follow neutrinos as they travel 800 miles through the earth, from FermiLab in Batavia, Ill., to Sanford Lab.

Fermilab LBNE