Skip to main content
Jake Davis becomes Deputy Director of Surface Operations and Utilities at Sanford Lab
Erin Lorraine Broberg

Three hours passed as the LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) dark matter team lowered the experiment’s inner detector into the water tank. The 5,000-pound detector housed an intricate array of light sensors and delicate electric grids—all incredibly fragile. It had already endured a journey down a mile-deep shaft to the laboratory spaces on the 4850 Level of Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab). At last, the detector was being lowered, inch by inch, into its final position.

During this painstaking (and ultimately successful) operation, Jacob Davis operated the underground crane. Davis, who has been recently promoted to Deputy Director of Surface Operations and Utilities at Sanford Lab, recalled this task as one of many unique experiences he had as an engineer with the LZ experiment.


The LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) dark matter team lowered the experiment’s inner detector into the water tank.

The LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) dark matter team lowered the experiment’s inner detector into the water tank. Photo by Nick Hubbard.


“From an engineering standpoint, there are a lot of ‘firsts.’ So many pieces of the experiment have never been built or even thought of before now,” said Davis. Donning a head-to-toe cleanroom suit, orbitally welding ultra-high purity Xenon tubing, and troubleshooting high vacuum and cryogenic systems are all on the list.

“I don’t know how much physics I picked up, but to help build these systems, you really gain an appreciation of the science goals, of what this experiment is trying to discover,” Davis said. “And you take on those goals as part of the team.”

This unique experience has prepared Davis for his role as Deputy Director for Facility Infrastructure at Sanford Lab. According to Tim Baumgartner, director of Surface Operations and Utilities at Sanford Lab, the role was created in 2021 to help plan, schedule and monitor the work of a growing facility infrastructure department.

“We were fortunate that Jake applied for the position. He has a varied background in several industries and knowledge of complex systems at the facility,” Baumgartner said. “From HVAC systems and underground ventilation to wastewater pumping and treatment, the facility includes some very involved systems. Jake is more than up to the task of learning these systems and helping us maintain and improve them as well.”

Just like engineering for a dark matter experiment, supporting facility infrastructure for world-class research will include a lot of “firsts.” And Davis looks forward to those new opportunities.

“It’s an exciting time for the lab, with a lot of projects and expansions on the horizon, and I don't see things slowing down anytime soon,” Davis said. “Looking at that future, I want my skill sets to support this team and its goals.”

Davis graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SD Mines) in 2010. After working for several years with Nucor Steel in Norfolk, Nebraska, Davis worked for Henry Company, providing engineering support for manufacturing facilities across the United States.

In 2017, Davis joined Sanford Lab as an engineering technical associate and was soon promoted to a mechanical engineer role. In 2020, Davis was certified as a master rigger, and, because of his experiences at Sanford Lab, will be eligible to apply for his Professional Engineering license. 

“Jake has been a great asset for the LZ dark matter experiment,” said Jeff Cherwinka, chief engineer for LZ. “His technical skills as a mechanical engineer helped plan and execute work, particularly complex rigging of fragile detector components and assemblies. Jake also brought a skilled set of hands to direct assembly work and welding. His communication and organizational skills helped manage people and resources both within Sanford Lab and the larger LZ collaboration.”

Before Davis’ direct work with LZ concluded, collaboration members gathered photos from the last several years and presented Davis with a collage, thanking him for his contributions to the experiment.

“While LZ will miss Jake, we are glad to see his advancement and know he will continue to help LZ and other science experiments in his new role. It will be good to continue to have his positive attitude and smiling face around Sanford Lab,” Cherwinka said.


Eight people stand to the left of a large piece of the LZ dark matter detector

From left: Jack Bargemann, Simon Fiorucci, Alvine Kamaha, Charles Maupin, Jake Davis, Jeff Cherwinka, Pawel Majewski, and Doug Tiedt, welcome the arrival of the LUX-ZEPLIN central detector to the 4,850-foot level at the Sanford Underground Research Laboratory. The detector, which is lying on its side, will ultimately be surrounded by several other tanks. Photo by Matthew Kapust