Underground lab presents SDSU with opportunity

Ruth Brown

Ruth Brown

South Dakota has a new underground research project in progress. The former Homestake Gold Mine in the Black Hills is now the site of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab (DUSEL). DUSEL is a laboratory that will be used by particle physicists and engineers across the globe for research in neutrinos, dark matter and radioactive decay.

The current lab is 4,800 feet below the surface. It can be used to study particle physics, geology and astrophysics. The lab itself was once used by Raymond Davis and other scientists to study solar neutrinos. Davis later won the Nobel Prize in physics for his work done at Homestake.

This was one of the reasons the National Science Foundation chose Homestake as a research site.

Robert McTaggart of the SDSU physics department said that the lab they hope to open would be approximately 7,400 feet underground. The problem with opening a lab that far underground is that the temperature can rise as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Engineers will have to implement an air conditioning and ventilation system before the lab can be used, as well as ensure safety for everyone. Once the new lab is open it will be an opportunity for physicists to do all kinds of new research.

The Homestake Mine will also have an effect on South Dakota’s economy. More scientists will be coming to the South Dakota bringing new technologically advanced companies. More people will be moving to South Dakota to work at the mine. All of the surrounding cities will benefit from these changes.

Debbie Gannaway, 19, is a sophomore general art major from Spearfish, SD, which is approximately 19 miles from the Homestake Mine. “I think it’s a great and exciting opportunity for the state and for the Black Hills,” she said.

The Homestake Mine will also have a program called the Homestake Outreach Program (HOP). The plans for HOP are to educate people on what is happening at Homestake. There will be a video series made to document what is going on under the surface. The video series will be implemented into the school systems as well as made available to the public. Some of South Dakota’s teachers will have the opportunity to attend in-service workshops to better inform them on what is happening at Homestake and give them a better outlook on science.

HOP is also planning on building a visitor’s center at the mine known as the Homestake Outreach Program Visitor Access Center (HOPVAC). HOPVAC will be a place for people to take tours of the mine and participate in viewing demonstrations. It would be located in the front of the mine to ensure safety for all. HOPVAC would provide a new tourist attraction for Lead, SD and the surrounding areas. Black Hills State University is the most involved in starting HOPVAC, says Bruce Bleakley of the biology/ microbiology department at SDSU.

More incoming freshman at SDSU have been claiming physics as their major since 2004, McTaggart said. The Homestake Mine could quite possibly be one reason for this. The Homestake Mine could become a place for graduate students to do studies and internships.

“There will be opportunities for students to get involved,” said McTaggart. Homestake will also become a possible place for science majors to get jobs after they graduate. This would keep students in South Dakota after graduation rather than leaving the state to find jobs.

SDSU is not the only college that would be involved with DUSEL. South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, Black Hills State University and other colleges throughout the country would be involved.

“Homestake will be a great addition to South Dakota,” said Tom Cheesbrough of the SDSU biology/microbiology department. “I think it’s really cool.”