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At Sanford Lab, undergraduate students work with experts from around the world, gaining valuable real-world experience.
Erin Broberg

From physics experiments scouring the universe for rare event signatures to chemistry projects growing the world’s purest copper, experiments at Sanford Lab provide a unique learning environment. Here, undergraduate students work with experts from around the world, gaining valuable real-world experience. This week, we stopped to talk with three undergraduate student researchers. 

Brady Bos smiles in front of the Majorana Cleanroom space
Brady Bos, SD Mines

“I get to work and talk with amazing people, from all around the world!” said Bos.

Brady Bos is a senior physics and mathematics double major at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SD Mines) from Pipestone, MN. As a freshman, Bos received an email from a professor looking for student help on a physics experiment. That professor was Dr. Cabot-Ann Christofferson, a researcher at Sanford Lab and a chemistry instructor at SD Mines, and the experiment was the MAJORANA Demonstrator on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab. 

“I thought it was a great opportunity, so I gave it a shot,” said Bos. 

Bos currently runs data and simulation analysis on the Radon backgrounds in the MAJORANA Demonstrator. 

“When I started I helped with the construction of the experiment, and I have been doing a fair amount of chemistry work too,” said Bos. “I was so surprised at the level of cleanliness that they can achieve in a mine a mile underground.” 

This work gives him extensive experience with data analysis and cleanrooms, which he says is valuable for his future career in physics. 

Megan Wattenhofer smiles in the BHUC.
Megan Wattenhofer, BHSU

“The history surrounding Sanford Lab is humbling, and the science is beyond amazing. What is being done at Sanford is groundbreaking work—work that I look forward to following," Wattenhofer said.

Megan Wattenhofer is a senior from Rapid City at Black Hills State University (BHSU). Her studies combine a molecular biology major and chemistry minor to prepare her for medical school. She began working with Dr. Brianna Mount, a research assistant professor at BHSU and lab director of the underground campus, through the summer research program PIRE-GEMEDARC, which sends a group of students to China to attend an international collaboration meeting on research being done with Germanium detectors. During the program, Brianna reached out to participants, asking if they would like to continue working underground. 

“I jumped at the chance!” said Wattenhofer.

Currently, Wattenhofer is working with Dr. Mount and two other BHSU students at the BHSU Underground Campus (BHUC). They work on maintenance of the lab and its low-background counters. 

“We've learned how to change samples in the detectors,” said Wattenhofer. “We’ve also built shields around an exposed part of one detector and helped complete the outer layer of another.”

Wattenhofer says that, as a pre-medical student, experimental physics doesn’t necessarily collide with her area of study. “Because of this,” she said, “working at Sanford Lab has been a chance for me to pursue something that I very much enjoy and find intriguing outside of my area of study. In addition, a form of research is highly recommended when applying to medical schools. This experience is giving me that research in an extremely unique way that I’m very much enjoying.”

Erika Redinger
Erika Redinger, BHSU

“I’m amazed by the close contact I’ve had with leading researchers in all areas of science. From my first experience, I’ve been continuously drawn underground," said Redinger.

Erika Redinger is a third-year physical science major who grew up in Spearfish. The first time she heard of an opportunity to study underground, she was in high school. 

“My physics teacher worked with Dr. Mount, monitoring and studying underground ventilation and weather at Sanford Lab,” said Redinger. “I was able to work with him my senior year, and go underground after my eighteenth birthday. I came in contact with Dr. Mount in college, as I began looking for research opportunities.”

Redinger now goes underground once a week with Dr. Mount to work at the BHUC. Like Wattenhofer, Redinger has had hands-on experience cleaning and exchanging materials in the low-background counting facility. She says she has become very conscious of how clean she can keep her surroundings and herself, to ensure that the cleanroom spaces are meticulously maintained. 

Her work underground has not only been a direct application of her studies, but has even furthered her interest in research. “The materials used in detectors are fascinating,” said Redinger, “and I have a drive to study those, as well as the impact these detectors and materials can have in other areas of physics research.”

These students' research opportunities came from Sanford Lab partnerships with state universities. Click here for information on Sanford Lab internships.