From SURF: “Science impact”

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Sanford Underground levels

Sanford Underground Research facility


The Sanford Underground Research Facility supports world-leading research in particle and nuclear physics and other science disciplines. While still a gold mine, the facility hosted Ray Davis’s solar neutrino experiment, which shared the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physics. His work is a model for other experiments looking to understand the nature of the universe.

The Facility’s depth, rock stability and history make it ideal for sensitive experiments that need to escape cosmic rays. The impacts on science can be seen worldwide.


In 2014, the Department of Energy’s High Energy Physics committee prioritized physics experiments, making neutrino and dark matter projects high-priority. Sanford Lab houses two experiments named in the P-5 report:

Lux Zeplin project at SURF


FNAL LBNF/DUNE from FNAL to SURF, Lead, South Dakota, USA

FNAL DUNE Argon tank at SURF

Surf-Dune/LBNF Caverns at Sanford

FNAL LBNF DUNE Organization Chart

FNAL/DUNE Near Site Layout

Science with national priority

In 2014, the Department of Energy’s High Energy Physics committee prioritized physics experiments, making neutrino and dark matter projects high-priority. Sanford Lab houses two experiments named in the P-5 report: LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) and LBNF/DUNE.

LZ, a second-generation dark matter experiment, will continue the search for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), while LBNF/DUNE, the largest mega-science project ever on U.S. soil, will study the properties of neutrinos.


International investment and cooperation


Global footprint

Competition for underground lab space is fierce. Once the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) construction is complete, Sanford Lab will host approximately 25 percent of the total volume of underground laboratory space in the world.

The sheer amount of space (7700 acres underground) and existing infrastructure make the site highly attractive for future experiments in a variety of disciplines.


Global footprint depth

Sanford Lab is the deepest underground lab in the U.S. at 1,490 meters. The average rock overburden is approximately 4300 meters water equivalent for existing laboratories on the 4850 Level. Space in operating laboratories has a strong track record of meeting experiment needs.

Surface footprint

The local footprint of the facility includes 186 acres on the surface. Facilities at both the Yates and Ross surface campuses office researchers administrative support, office space, communications and education and public outreach. The Waste Water Treatment Plant handles and processes waste materials and a warehouse for shipping and receiving.

Underground footprint

Of the 370 total miles of underground space, Sanford Lab maintains approximately 12 for science at various levels, including the 300, 800, 1700, 2000, 4100, and 4850 levels. The Davis Campus on the 4850 Level is a world-class laboratory space that houses experiment for neutrinoless double-beta decay and dark matter.

Sanford Lab hosts a variety of research projects in many discipline. Researchers from around the globe use the facility to learn more about our universe, life underground and the unique geology of the region. The site also allows scientists to share and foster growth within the science community.

The site also encourages cooperation between many countries and institutions. For the first time in its history, CERN is investing in an experiment outside of the European Union with its $90 million commitment to LBNF/DUNE.


Two shafts for safety and redundancy

Construction on the Ross Shaft began in 1932, with the first skip of ore hoisted in 1934. The steel shaft reaches 5,000 feet and was in operation until 2002 when the Homestake Mine closed. While the Yates Shaft is used for primary access, both the Ross and Yates shafts are conduits for power, optical fiber and ventilation.

Refurbishment of the Ross Shaft infrastructure is underway and includes the replacement of the steel and ground support. Modernizing the Ross Shaft is critical to carving out the space needed to house LNBF/DUNE. Nearly 850,000 tons of rock will be hoisted through the Ross during excavation for the experiment.

Science access

The Yates Shaft, which was raised in 1939 and reaches the 4850 Level, is the primary access point for scientists and others who work underground at Sanford Lab. The hoists convey equipment and materials used to build and maintain experiments, enhance infrastructure and excavate caverns.

Researchers often have similar requirements for space, power, data connections and other utilities and share common infrastructure throughout the facility.


Geology of the site has been well-characterized

Geotechnical properties of some rock formations at Sanford Lab are ideal for large excavations for laboratory space. Before excavating, engineers study the character of the rock using new and existing core drilled from throughout the former Homestake mine.

7 main rock formations and rhyolite intrusives
27,870 drill holes throughout the facility
39,760 boxes of core from 2,688 drill holes
Sanford Lab maintains a database with more than 58,000 entries representing 1,740 drill holes


Biology opportunities

The isolation from surface microorganisms results in different environmental conditions. Temperature, humidity, variety of niches, different rock formations, access to water and seepage from various sources create unique opportunities to study extreme forms of life.

Research teams from the NASA Astrobiology Institute,the Desert Research Institute, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and Black Hills State University and other institutions from around the world, conduct research on several levels of the facility hoping to understand how these life forms survive in such extreme conditions.



The Sanford Underground Research Facility offers a variety of environments in which engineers can test real-world applications and new technologies. And the rich history of the Homestake Mine, which includes a vast archive of core samples, allows engineers to better understand how to excavate caverns for new experiments.

LZ, a second-generation dark matter experiment, will continue the search for weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPs), while LBNF/DUNE, the largest mega-science project ever on U.S. soil, will study the properties of neutrinos.

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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