From Sanford Underground Research Facility: “Sanford Lab’s impacts on education in South Dakota”

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Sanford Underground levels

From Sanford Underground Research Facility

Sanford Lab’s education team uses hands-on learning and 3-Dimensional instruction to transform teaching and learning in K-12 STEM classes.

Story by Sanford Lab staff.
Photos by Matthew Kapust

Sanford Lab’s education team uses hands-on learning and 3-Dimensional instruction to transform teaching and learning in K-12 STEM classes.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) takes very seriously its mission to “…inspire and educate through science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)” using both informal and formal education.

Public outreach programs include Deep Talks and Neutrino Day, reaching more than 2,500 people annually. However, Sanford Lab’s education impacts are, perhaps, most keenly felt through the efforts of its Education and Outreach (E&O) team. Through a partnership between Black Hills State University and Sanford Lab, the E&O team has developed curriculum units, school assembly programs and field trips for K-12 students, leveraging the world-leading research hosted at Sanford Lab to inspire the next generation of STEM leaders.

“Through these programs, we use current and future experiments, as well as day-to-day operations at Sanford Lab, to engage students in doing science and acting as engineers to solve real problems,” said Deb Wolf, director of E&O.

The team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 students annually and since 2015 has touched the lives of more than 40,000 children throughout South Dakota.

The programs extend to teachers as well. The E&O team also hosts professional development workshops for K-12 teachers, hosting nearly 200 teachers over the past three years, both at Sanford Lab and online. The team teaches teachers how to incorporate the science happening at Sanford Lab into their classrooms.

“I like the big ideas—the connections to the lab, international research on a topic and the fundamental science ideas.”—Michelle Crane, Douglas High School science teacher.

Education and Outreach recognizes the diverse student populations that exist across our large and sparsely populated region, including urban, rural and tribal schools. Equity of science education opportunities varies greatly. Science education opportunities vary greatly. We are attempting to level the playing field—and increase equity in science education—by providing enriching activities for all student populations throughout our state and region.

“Our team believes that every student deserves high-quality science learning that gives them the opportunity to see themselves as having unlimited potential. In the large, often sparsely-populated region that encompasses South Dakota and surrounding states, providing equitable science learning opportunities for students is of highest priority.”—Deb Wolf, E&O Director.

Sanford Lab understands that children learn by doing. Every curriculum unit, every classroom presentation, and every field trip to Sanford Lab provides ample opportunities for children to channel their inner scientist.

“The best way to learn about science is simple, you have to let kids be scientists,” said Becky Bundy, science education specialist at Sanford Lab. And the best way to do that is to let them wrestle with the same problems scientists are wrestling with and come up with their own solutions.

Students reached

The Sanford Lab Education and Outreach team reaches more than 10,000 K-12 children every year with its curriculum modules, assembly programs and field trips.

Teacher impacts

Each curriculum unit developed by our Education and Outreach team provides K-12 teachers with 5-15 hours of instruction. Everything a teacher needs to teach a curriculum unit is included. For example, if a unit requires Dixie cups, there will be enough for each child. The units are assembled at Sanford Lab then mailed to schools—all at no cost to the teacher or the school district. Additionally, teachers receive training on how to facilitate the units, all of which are based on a science experiment hosted underground at Sanford Lab. Each unit is aligned with South Dakota science standards.

Comments from teachers using the curriculum units:

“These kits are such a valuable resource!” 1st grade teacher, South Park Elementary

“The hands-on materials are great and the unit is very user friendly.” 5th Grade teacher, Hill City

“This unit inspired a lot of critical thinking.” 4th grade teacher, Rapid City

People attending events
Sanford Lab hosts several public events every year, including Neutrino Day and Deep Talks, reaching more than 2,500 people.

3-D teaching and learning

Based on a student-centered model and consistent with the National Research Council’s “A Framework for K-12 Science Education,” our curriculum units bring together disciplinary core ideas, science and engineering practices, and crosscutting concepts. Students work as scientists to gain critical thinking skills that allow them to design solutions to real-world problems and make sense of natural phenomena.

The E&O team receives hundreds of letters from students every year (see photo). Here are some of the comments:

“I think it was interesting how we people use bio-life forms like bugs to clean our water. Thank you for using your time to teach us about your work.” Simon, 6th grade, Sioux Falls

“I enjoyed learning about your job and what you do….It was interesting that people can’t feel cosmic radiation. I still want to know how you can detect dark matter when you don’t know if it is even reel (sic) or what it looks like.” Micah, 6th grade, Sioux Falls.


K-12 STEM education
Based on South Dakota’s science standards, our education specialists work to create and advance innovative educational programming at the local, state and national levels.
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Education and Outreach 2018 by the numbers
Reaching more than 30,000 students and training over a hundred educators—all in the name of STEM education
Full Details


Resources for educators
Leveraging research being conducted underground at Sanford Lab, we provide training, teaching tools and materials for teachers so they can inspire and challenge students.
Full Details

See the full article here .

Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

Stem Education Coalition

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.

LBNL LZ project at SURF, Lead, SD, USA, will replace LUX 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.

LUX’s mission was to scour the universe for WIMPs, vetoing all other signatures. It would continue to do just that for another three years before it was decommissioned in 2016.

In the midst of the excitement over first results, the LUX collaboration was already casting its gaze forward. Planning for a next-generation dark matter experiment at Sanford Lab was already under way. Named LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), the next-generation experiment would increase the sensitivity of LUX 100 times.

SLAC physicist Tom Shutt, a previous co-spokesperson for LUX, said one goal of the experiment was to figure out how to build an even larger detector.
“LZ will be a thousand times more sensitive than the LUX detector,” Shutt said. “It will just begin to see an irreducible background of neutrinos that may ultimately set the limit to our ability to measure dark matter.”
We celebrate five years of LUX, and look into the steps being taken toward the much larger and far more sensitive experiment.

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.

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


U Washington Majorana Demonstrator Experiment at SURF

The MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR will contain 40 kg of germanium; up to 30 kg will be enriched to 86% in 76Ge. The DEMONSTRATOR will be deployed deep underground in an ultra-low-background shielded environment in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, SD. The goal of the DEMONSTRATOR is to determine whether a future 1-tonne experiment can achieve a background goal of one count per tonne-year in a 4-keV region of interest around the 76Ge 0νββ Q-value at 2039 keV. MAJORANA plans to collaborate with GERDA for a future tonne-scale 76Ge 0νββ search.

LBNL LZ project at SURF, Lead, SD, USA


CASPAR is a low-energy particle accelerator that allows researchers to study processes that take place inside collapsing stars.

The scientists are using space in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota, to work on a project called the Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR). CASPAR uses a low-energy particle accelerator that will allow researchers to mimic nuclear fusion reactions in stars. If successful, their findings could help complete our picture of how the elements in our universe are built. “Nuclear astrophysics is about what goes on inside the star, not outside of it,” said Dan Robertson, a Notre Dame assistant research professor of astrophysics working on CASPAR. “It is not observational, but experimental. The idea is to reproduce the stellar environment, to reproduce the reactions within a star.”