Majorana builds on experience

For the past year, the Majorana Demonstrator experiment has been collecting valuable information in its search for a rare form of radioactive decay using a prototype. Researchers believe neutrinoless double-beta decay occurs inside enriched germanium detectors and need to be sure everything that will be used in the actual experiment works the way it should. 

“The prototype was a complete shakedown of everything for the actual experiment,” said Vince Guiseppe, Assistant Professor of Physics at the University...

Davis-Bahcall Scholars arrive at Sanford Lab

For seven years, the Davis-Bahcall Scholars Program has given students from across South Dakota the opportunity to learn from scientists and engineers around the world, including some very close to home.  Today, nine students arrived at Sanford Lab to begin a five-week journey that will take them from Sanford Lab to Fermilab in Illinois to Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy.

The students are excited about the opportunity to travel and be immersed in the scientific community. “I’m fascinated by the way...

Critical Access: The Yates Shaft

The Ross and Yates shafts are critical to science—today and in the future—at Sanford Lab. Last week’s Deep Thoughts looked at the Ross rehabilitation project, it’s role in future research projects, and the unique challenges the crews face. This week, we’re focusing on the importance of top-down maintenance in the Yates Shaft and the crucial role it, too, has in science at Sanford Lab. 

So far this year, the Yates Shaft has moved...

Critical Access: The Ross Shaft

The Ross and Yates shafts are critical to science—today and in the future—at Sanford Lab. In this Deep Thoughts, we look at the Ross rehab project and the unique challenges the crews face. Next week, we’ll take a look at the importance of top-down maintenance in the Yates. 

Rehabbing the Ross Shaft involves much more than pulling out old steel and replacing it with new, although that part is challenging in and of itself. Crews also need to know the terrain of the...

SD Mines studies extreme life

The Sanford Lab underground is teeming with microscopic life. And Dr. Rajesh Sani has identified more than 9,000 microorganisms living in rocks, soil, water and even wood. His group has collected samples from levels all the way down to 5,000 feet, catalogued them, and written papers about them for nine years. 

Now, Sani, an Associate Professor of Biology at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology (SD Mines), and a...

Neutrino Day celebrates 50 years of science

June 5, 2015

Fifty years ago, Dr. Ray Davis began building his Solar Neutrino Experiment nearly a mile underground at the Homestake mine. Neutrino Day will celebrate this historic moment with displays, live chats with scientists at Sanford Lab and Fermilab, and presentations that touch on current and future science at Sanford Lab.    

Neutrino Day events run Saturday, July 11, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Keynote speaker, Dr. Ray Jayawardhana, Dean of Science and a professor of physics and astronomy at York University in Toronto, will give a talk at 3 p.m. at the Homestake Opera House. His presentation, “Neutrino Hunters: Chasing a Ghostly Particle to Unlock Cosmic Secrets,” Jayawardhana will take you on a thrilling journey into the shadowy world of these elusive particles, while recounting a “captivating detective story with a colorful cast of characters and awesome cosmic implications.”

A graduate of Yale and Harvard, Jayawardhana uses many of the world’s largest telescopes to explore planetary origins and diversity. He is the author of Neutrino Hunters, which won the Canadian Science Writers Association (CSWA) Science in Society Book Award, and Strange New Worlds, which was the basis of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s documentary “The Planet Hunters.”

Additional speakers include Dr. Steve Elliott and Dr. Harry Nelson. Elliott, of Los Alamos National Laboratory is the spokesperson for the Majorana Demonstrator project at Sanford Lab. His talk, “Neutrinos, Anti-Neutrinos and the Question, ‘Why are we Here,’” looks at the connections between matter, antimatter, neutrino mass and double beta decay. Elliott says it all started with Davis’s solar neutrino experiment, which was built in 1965 at the Homestake Gold Mine and ran for three decades. The presentation begins at 1:30 p.m.

At 10 a.m., Nelson, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara and an expert in dark matter research, will present “Touch the Dark.” The talk will focus on the search for dark matter at Sanford Lab and other laboratories around the world. Nelson is a researcher with the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment and spokesperson for LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), the next generation dark matter detector. All science talks are at the Opera House.

Throughout the day, visitors can participate in activities for kids of all ages at the Opera House and Manuel Brothers Park. At Sanford Lab visitors can tour the hoist-room (no open-toed shoes allowed), view displays, and participate in wild science demonstrations with “Science” Steve Rokusek of South Dakota Public Broadcasting. Live chats with scientists from Sanford Lab and Fermilab will be held at the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center (SLHVC) and there will be a geology demonstration on the observation deck. Guests may also tour the Visitor Center’s 3,000-square-foot exhibit hall and see the astonishing view of the Open Cut.

Two special events precede Neutrino Day. On Friday, July 10, students from Black Hills State University will perform a choral composition inspired by the sounds of the underground. The composition was written by BHSU music student Jesse Dunaway. The performance begins at 5:30 p.m. Emily Graslie, host and writer of YouTube’s “The Brain Scoop,” will give a talk about the relationships between art and science at 6:30 p.m. The Rapid City native is also the Chief Curiosity Correspondent at Chicago’s Field Museum.

Visitors can catch shuttles at the Visitor Center and the Opera House (public parking is not available at Sanford Lab). Shuttles will pick visitors up and transport them to events throughout the day. Food vendors will be located in Manuel Brothers Park.

A full schedule of events can be found at

Major support for Neutrino Day comes from the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Black Hills Power, Black Hills State University, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, Coeur Mining and Rushmore Media. In-kind sponsors include Simpsons Printing, KEVN, Duhamel Broadcasting and KDSJ. Sanford Lab partners with the following organizations to present Neutrino Day: The City of Lead, Lead Area Chamber of Commerce, Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center, Lead-Deadwood School District, Historic Homestake Opera House, Black Hills Mining Museum, Deadwood-Lead Economic Development Corporation and the Deadwood Chamber of Commerce.

DOE, NSF to fund LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) experiment at Sanford Lab

August 1, 2014
This computer generated image show a side-by-side comparison to the current LUX dark matter detector to the larger LZ detector.

LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ), a second generation dark matter experiment, got a big boost when the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation selected it as one of three experiments that will be funded in the next-generation dark matter search. LZ will build on the Large Underground Xenon (LUX) experiment, which has been operating at the 4850 Level of the Sanford Underground Research Facility since 2012, and on the ZEPLIN dark matter program in the United Kingdom, which pioneered the use of these types of detectors underground.

“We emerged from a very intense competition,” said Daniel McKinsey, professor of physics at Yale and a spokesperson for LUX. “We have the most sensitive detector in the world, with LUX. LZ will be hundreds of times more sensitive. It’s gratifying to see that our approach is being validated.”

Construction on the supersized detector is scheduled to begin in 2016, with a commissioning date of 2018. Plans for LZ have been in the works for several years.

“This is great news for the future of Dark Matter exploration and the Sanford Lab,” said Mike Headley, Executive Director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority. “The LZ experiment will play a key role in the future of the lab and we’re pleased that the DOE selected the experiment. It certainly will extend the state’s investment in this world-class facility.”

Rick Gaitskell, Hazard Professor of Physics at Brown, is a founding member of LZ and also co-spokesperson for the LUX experiment.

“The go-ahead from DOE and NSF is a major event,” Gaitskell said. “The LZ experiment will continue the liquid xenon direct dark matter search program at Sanford Lab, which we started with the operation of LUX in 2013. LUX will run until 2016 when we will replace it with LZ, which can provide a further improvement in sensitivity of two orders of magnitude due to its significant increase in size.”

Even if LUX makes a dark matter detection before LZ is up and running, LZ will still be necessary to confirm the detection and fully characterize the nature of WIMPS, Gaitskell said.

“This green light is a clear indication of the value the agencies see, not only in all the preparatory work that has gone into LZ, but also in the existing accomplishment of LUX and Sanford Lab these past few years,” said Simon Fiorucci, a research scientist at Brown who is the science coordinator for LUX and simulations coordinator for LZ. “LZ will be timed so that it is ready to start operations when LUX delivers its final results and reaches the limits of its technology. It will be a very natural transition.”

Harry Nelson, professor of physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara and spokesperson for the LZ Collaboration, said, “We still have a lot of work to do. Basically, we got the green light to go the next green light, then the next green light.” Still, he continued, “Everyone is excited.”

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