Mining for Knowledge
By Rep. Kristi Noem
For decades, the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, was used for mining gold, but today, we are mining the site for something much more valuable: a new understanding of how the natural world works.
This summer, I helped break ground on a new section of the research facility that’s located in the mine, now known as Sanford Lab. More than 4,000 feet underground, new experiments will be conducted on sub-atomic particles called neutrinos.
Neutrinos are extremely small particles that have almost no mass and travel at near lightspeeds. As John Conway, a professor of physics at the University of California, Davis, puts it: “They’re just little whisps of almost nothing.” And yet, neutrinos are a basic element of our universe. Just hold your hand out in the sunlight for a second and around 1 billion neutrinos will pass through it. Pretty amazing.
Despite the fact that there are billions of neutrinos flowing through each square inch of Earth at all times, we know very little about them. But that’s exactly what these new experiments are setting out to do. Many hope the knowledge gained will have a profound impact on everything from the speed of global communications to our understanding of black holes. The possibilities are endless, which is why the U.S. particle physics community highlighted the effort as the highest priority domestic construction project.
Over the last few years, we’ve been focused on building a community of support around the Sanford Lab and the experiments done there. I’ve had to fight to make the case that this ought to be a priority and push hard to ensure adequate investments were made. I was proud to get some breakthroughs and excited it has earned the support of international partners and the Trump administration.
Beyond the science – beyond satisfying our own curiosities – this project also carries significant opportunity for South Dakota. According to a 2016 study commissioned by the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, this experiment will contribute as much as $952 million to South Dakota’s economy, while creating nearly 2,000 jobs.
The indirect benefits are profound as well. In building a modern, knowledge-based economy, we are opening new opportunities for the best and the brightest to thrive in South Dakota. From elementary and high school students to those pursuing a world-class physics education at places like the South Dakota School of Mines, the next generation now has the opportunity to pursue their dreams right here in South Dakota.
The future of science is happening in our backyard. I’m excited to see what knowledge we can mine.