From SURF: “Lab Director looks back at 2017” A Gigantic and Important Laboratory in The U.S.

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Sanford Underground levels

Sanford Underground Research facility

Executive Director Mike Headley


2017 has been an exciting year at Sanford Lab. We’ve seen tremendous progress on current and future experiments, including dark matter and neutrino research; the ongoing efforts of the Black Hills Underground Campus; Education and Outreach; and the Ross Shaft rehabilitation project, which reached the 4850 Level in October. Underpinning the success of our projects is our continued commitment to safety at Sanford Lab. I am so proud of our staff, researchers and contractors for their focus on safety every day.

The success of 2017 is directly related to our strong partnerships with many organizations, including the various science collaborations at Sanford Lab; Fermilab, which has oversight responsibilities for our operations activities for the Department of Energy and is the lead DOE laboratory for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) project; and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I also want to thank the State of South Dakota and the SDSTA Board of Directors for their strong support of the world-leading underground science at Sanford Lab.

LBNF/DUNE Groundbreaking

On July 21, we celebrated the groundbreaking of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, which officially kicked off a new era in particle physics. We’re proud to be one of the sites hosting this international mega-science project, which will be the largest in the United States, and to be working alongside Fermilab and the DUNE collaboration. LBNF/DUNE has the potential to unlock the mysteries of neutrinos, which could explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all. At its peak, construction of LBNF is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs throughout South Dakota and a similar number of jobs in Illinois. The experiment will take approximately 10 years to build and will operate for about 20 years.

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International support

The LBNF/DUNE project garnered support from CERN in 2016, marking the first time the European-based science facility supported a major project outside of Europe. In another first, the United Kingdom signed an umbrella agreement with the United States on September 20 that commits $88 million toward the LBNF/DUNE project along with accelerator advancements at Fermilab. The $88 million in funding makes the UK the largest country investor in the project outside of the United States.

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CM/GC selected: On Aug. 9, a new team officially signed on to help prepare for the excavation and construction of LBNF. Fermi Research Alliance LLC, which operates Fermilab, awarded Kiewit/Alberici Joint Venture (KAJV) a contract to begin laying the groundwork for the excavation for LBNF, the facility that will support DUNE. KAJV will help finalize design and excavation plans for LBNF and oversee the excavation and removal of more than 800,000 tons of rock, as well as the outfitting of the DUNE caverns.

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Dark Matter

For several years, we hosted LUX, one of the world’s most sensitive dark matter experiments. Now, we’re gearing up for the next-generation experiment, LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ). The collaboration had a positive directors’ progress review in November and will begin surface assembly activities in early 2018. We are proud to have made major contributions to LZ, including investing in 80 percent of the xenon, which is being purified at SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory. We’ve also updated the Surface Lab cleanroom (pictured above) and built a radon reduction facility. The experiment is expected to begin operations in 2020 and run for five years.

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LUX on display

Visitors to the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center can now view the decommissioned Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment on display as an interactive exhibit. On July 18, researchers unveiled the new exhibit, which features a window that allows visitors to view the inside of the detector: copper grids, white Teflon plates and a depiction of the wire grids that were vital to the success of the experiment. Additionally, an interactive kiosk explains the history of the LUX detector and all of the associated parts that are shown in the exhibit, and an actual PMT, one of 120 used in the experiment.

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CASPAR Ribbon Cutting

In a major step forward, the Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR) collaboration achieved first beam and celebrated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 12. CASPAR’s 50-foot long accelerator uses radio-frequency energy to produce a beam of protons or alpha particles from hydrogen or helium gas. The ions enter the accelerating tube, which is kept at high vacuum, then are directed down the beamline using magnets. The particles crash into a target, releasing the same neutrons that fuel the nuclear reactions in stars and produce a large amount of the heavy elements. The collaboration will begin full operations this year.

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Majorana reports results

After years of planning and building its experiment, the Majorana Demonstrator collaboration announced its initial physics results. The team is looking for a rare type of radioactive decay called neutrinoless double-beta decay, which could answer fundamental questions about the universe, including why there is an imbalance of matter and antimatter in the universe and why we even exist. The Majorana Demonstrator collaboration needed to show it could achieve the low backgrounds required to see this rare physics event. And the team surpassed its goals, reducing backgrounds to a level that shows promise for a next-generation experiment that will be much larger.

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We’re excited to have a new geology collaboration at Sanford Lab: LBNL’s Enhanced Geothermal Systems Collaboration (EGS Collab), which is studying geothermal systems, a clean-energy technology that could power up to 100 million American homes. The SIGMA-V (Stimulation Investigations for Geothermal Modeling and Analysis) team has been collecting data that will inform better predictive and geomechanic models of the subsurface of the earth by drilling several 60-meter long boreholes on the 4850 Level. The data will be applied toward the Frontier Observatory for Research in Geothermal Energy (FORGE), a flagship DOE geothermal project.

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Community outreach

Interest in what’s happening at Sanford Lab continues to grow. This year more than 2,000 people attended events hosted by Sanford Lab. During Neutrino Day 2017: Discovery, visitors to Lead participated in a practice eclipse balloon launch, hands-on education activities, video conferences from a mile underground and Fermilab, hoistroom tours and “wild science” and geology demonstrations, and learned all about 2017’s Nobel-winning physics experiment, LIGO, which discovered gravitational waves. We also hosted an Eclipse party and several Deep Talks presentations.

Facebook visit

Everywhere we go lately, we get asked about Mark Zuckerberg’s July 12 visit to Sanford Lab. The Facebook founder visited South Dakota, where he had lunch with ranchers in Piedmont, discussed net neutrality in Sturgis and stopped by the Sanford Underground Research Facility—all in a single day. In a live-stream video from the 4850 Level, Mr. Zuckerberg talked with Sanford Lab’s Dan Regan and Jaret Heise, and Cabot-Ann Christofferson, a member of the Majorana Collabortion to learn more about the community of Lead and the world-leading science taking place nearly a mile below the earth’s surface. So far, more than 4 million people have viewed the video. We were honored to host him and his team and appreciate his efforts to help Facebook users better understand who we are.

Watch the live post

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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