From Sanford Underground Research Facility: “Crews create a blast to take the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment to the next stage”

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From Sanford Underground Research Facility

Homestake Mining Company

June 25, 2020
Lauren Biron and Leah Hesla [FNAL]

Initial blast marks beginning of excavation for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility which will house DUNE.

Surf-Dune/LBNF Caverns at Sanford

Excavation activities for the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility began with first blast on June 23. Workers inspect the space cleared by the blast 3,650 feet below ground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in South Dakota. They will eventually excavate hundreds of thousands of tons of rock to make way for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, hosted by Fermilab, and LBNF, which is the infrastructure that supports and houses the experiment. Photo courtesy Kiewit Alberici Joint Venture

It started with a blast.

On June 23, construction company Kiewit Alberici Joint Venture set off explosives 3,650 feet beneath the surface in Lead, South Dakota, to begin creating space for the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, hosted by the Department of Energy’s Fermilab.

The blast is the start of underground excavation activity for the experiment, known as DUNE, and the infrastructure that powers and houses it, called the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility, or LBNF.

Situated a mile deep in South Dakota rock at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, DUNE’s giant particle detector will track the behavior of fleeting particles called neutrinos.

FNAL DUNE Argon tank at SURF

The plan for the next three years, is that workers will blast and drill to remove 800,000 tons of rock to make a home for the gigantic detector and its support systems.

“The start of underground blasting for these early excavation activities marks not only the initiation of the next major phase of this work, but significant progress on the construction already under way to prepare the site for the experiment,” said Fermilab Deputy Director for LBNF/DUNE-US Chris Mossey.

The excavation work begins with removing 3,000 tons of rock 3,650 feet below ground. This initial step carves out a station for a massive drill whose bore is as wide as a car is long, about four meters.

The machine will help create a 1,200-foot ventilation shaft down to what will be the much larger cavern for the DUNE particle detector and associated infrastructure. There, 4,850 feet below the surface — about 1.5 kilometers deep — the LBNF project will remove hundreds of thousands of tons of rock, roughly the weight of eight aircraft carriers.

The emptied space will eventually be filled with DUNE’s enormous and sophisticated detector, a neutrino hunter looking for interactions from one of the universe’s most elusive particles. Researchers will send an intense beam of neutrinos from Fermilab in Illinois to the underground detector in South Dakota – straight through the earth, no tunnel necessary – and measure how the particles change their identities. What they learn may answer one of the biggest questions in physics: Why does matter exist instead of nothing at all?

“The worldwide particle physics community is preparing in various ways for the day DUNE comes online, and this week, we take the material step of excavating rock to support the detector,” said DUNE spokesperson Stefan Söldner-Rembold of the University of Manchester. “It’s a wonderful example of collaboration: While excavation takes place in South Dakota, DUNE partners around the globe are designing and building the parts for the DUNE detector.”

A number of science experiments already take data at Sanford Underground Research Facility, but no activity takes place at the 3650 level. With nothing and no one in the vicinity, the initial excavation stage to create the cavern for the drill proceeds in an isolated environment. It’s also an opportunity for the LBNF construction project to gather information about matters such as air flow and the rock’s particular response to the drill-and-blast technique before moving on to the larger excavation at the 4850 level, where the experiment will be built.

“It was important for us to develop a plan that would allow the LBNF excavation to go forward without disrupting the experiments already going on in other parts of the 4850 level,” said Fermilab Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility Far-Site Conventional Facilities Manager Joshua Willhite. Following a period of excavation at the 3650 level, the project will initiate excavation at the 4850 level.

Every bit of the 800,000 tons of rock dislodged by the underground drill-and-blast operation must eventually be transported a mile back up to the surface. There, a conveyor is being built to transport the crushed rock over a stretch of 4,200 feet for final deposit in the Open Cut, an enormous open pit mining area excavated in the 1980s. As large as the LBNF excavation will be, the rock moved to the surface and deposited in the Open Cut will only fill less than one percent of it.

Excavation at the 3650 level will be completed over the next few months, with blasting at the 4850 level planned to begin immediately after.

Learn more about the science of the DUNE experiment at

Work on LBNF and DUNE is supported by the DOE Office of Science and international partners in more than 30 countries.

Fermilab is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit

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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.

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.


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.”