Scientists Tom Shutt, background center left, with arms extended, and Richard Gaitskell, background center right, with arms folded, explain their dark-matter detector to visitors 4,580 feet underground in the recently dedicated Davis Campus of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead.

Native Sun News: Former mine is now center of global attention

The following story was written and reported by Talli Nauman, Native Sun News Health & Environment Editor. All content © Native Sun News.

LEAD –– South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard forecasted educational and career opportunities resulting from new installations dedicated on May 30 at the Sanford Underground Research Facility and Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL).

The subterranean installations are intended to advance the science of Nobel Prize-winning experiments on neutrinos – electrically neutral subatomic particles with extremely low mass – begun in 1965 by chemist Ray Davis nearly a mile below the earth’s surface at the former Homestake Gold Mine.

“When Dr. Davis was notified that he had won the Nobel Prize, his first response was, ‘I had a lot of fun doing that work’,” Daugaard said.

“We want this to be a place where new scientific discoveries are made to better the lives of all humankind. But we also want this to be a place that inspires our young people and the world’s young people,” he said. “We want them to discover the fun and joy of learning that Ray Davis … and all of our scientists have.”

World-acclaimed scientists and Davis’ widow Anna joined Daugaard, South Dakota politicians, private donors and representatives of federal funding agencies in touring the new Davis Campus facilities recently completed by contractors 4,580 feet below ground level.

The center of attraction is the Large Underground Xenon Detector (LUX), a 25-foot in diameter, 20-foot tall tank full of water with a xenon core that personnel hope will isolate interference enough to help them go beyond neutrino research into the exploration of elusive “dark matter.” Xenon is a colorless, odorless gaseous element occurring in extremely small amounts in the atmosphere. It is used in lamps that make intense flashes, such as strobe lights and flashbulbs for photography. Dark matter is a hypothetical substance suggested by scientists to influence gravity.

The dedication took place on the eve of the sixth anniversary of Davis’ death.

Davis won a share of the Nobel Physics Prize in 2002 for his neutrino detector experiment, which led to the discovery that the subatomic particles produced by fusion in the sun change on their way to earth. This discovery in turn led to a change in scientists’ conception of how the universe works.

Daugaard described the efforts to build on that research at DUSEL as a detonator for science education in South Dakota and a source of unprecedented career opportunities for people of the state, potentially helping to reverse its problem of “brain drain.”

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory took over the federal funding of operations at the Sanford facility from the National Science Foundation.

That laboratory is one of two named after Canton native Ernest O. Lawrence, who graduated from the University of South Dakota and went on to create the Nobel Prize-winning idea of the cyclotron, or atom-smasher, at the University of California, Berkeley.

His brother, John Lawrence, also a University of South Dakota graduate, became known as the father of nuclear medicine for his work at Harvard Medical School and later at UC Berkeley. “Unfortunately, both Ernest and John had to leave South Dakota to do their career-long research,” Daugaard said. “Dr. Ray Davis changed that direction.”

“Dr. Davis came to South Dakota many times over many years to do his career-long research here at Homestake,” he said.

Daugaard noted that his predecessor, Mike Rounds, used his experience in the insurance business to broker a deal that transformed the former Homestake Gold Mine, closed in 2000, from a liability to a resource, then went on to sell the underground lab idea to legislators and the public.

As a result, the state appropriated some $20 million to create the subterranean research campus, which officially opened in 2009.

Rounds attended the May 30 dedication, along with South Dakota federal lawmakers’ staffers, state legislators from DUSEL’s Dist. 31, and Homestake Mining Co.’s Environmental Director Bill Ferdinand, who helped facilitate the conversion of the abandoned industrial waste site to a new job site.

Among scientists on hand were Kevin Lesko, Sanford Underground Research Facility’s principal investigator, Jim Siegrist, high energy physics director for the U.S. Department of Energy, and Richard Gaitskell and Tom Shutt, co-directors of the LUX project.

One of the research facility’s prime benefactors, leading national philanthropist T. Denny Sanford of Sioux Falls also attended the dedication.

At the urging of Rounds, T. Denny Sanford committed $50 million in private donations to establish the Sanford Underground Research Facility plus $20 million to set up the Sanford Center for Science Education, a projected surface campus.

(Contact Talli Nauman at

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