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Impact and History

Our History

For 125 years, Homestake delved deep for gold. In 2002, the mine became a dedicated research facility where scientists probe the depths of space to learn more about our place in the universe.
Ray Davis look in a tank being built for a solar neutrino experiment.

Sanford Lab is located at the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, S.D. Until its closure in 2002, Homestake was the largest and deepest gold mine in North America, producing approximately 41 million ounces of gold in its 126-year lifetime. Following the mine’s closure, Barrick Gold Corporation, which owned the mine, agreed to continue dewatering as negotiations to develop a deep underground science laboratory proceeded. But as progress slowed and dewatering and maintenance costs increased, Barrick turned off the pumps.

Davis looks at hit neutrino tank during construction.

Early Physics Research

The idea of housing physics research at Sanford Lab came long before its official conversion to a research facility. The first physics experiment came to Homestake Mine in the mid-1960s when Dr. Ray Davis, a chemist from Brookhaven National Lab, began building his solar neutrino experiment on the 4850 Level. Despite nearly three decades of counting neutrinos, Davis consistently found only one-third of the number predicted. This became known as the solar neutrino problem. Eventually the problem was solved through new understandings in neutrino physics. By the time Ray Davis received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2002, the deep caverns of the mine were coveted for continued particle physics research. 

Denny Sanford and infrastructure technicians

Built on partnerships

Advocates for underground science continued working on developing a deep underground laboratory, and in 2006 Barrick donated the property to the State of South Dakota for use as an underground laboratory. T. Denny Sanford, for whom the facility is named, donated $70 million to the project, while the state committed $40 million and created the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority (SDSTA) to run the site. On July 10, 2007, the mine was selected by the National Science Foundation as the location for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), winning out over several other sites. Homestake’s selection paved the way for the SDSTA to begin reopening the mine. Since 2003, however, the mine had slowly been filling with water. Before the work of building a physics laboratory could begin, the water needed to be pumped out. An additional $10 million in grants allowed refurbishing to begin. 

The Davis Campus is open for science

Change in direction

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 science operations at the lab. The first two major physics experiments located on the 4850 Level were the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment and the Majorana Demonstrator experiment. LUX is housed in the same cavern that was excavated for Ray Davis’s experiment in the 1960s. In October 2013, after an initial run of 80 days, LUX was determined to be the most sensitive dark matter detector in the world. The Majorana experiment is searching for a rare type of radioactive decay called “neutrinoless double-beta decay.” If this phenomenon were detected, it could confirm that neutrinos are their own antiparticles and provide clues as to why matter prevailed over antimatter.