Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Opening Of The Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center

daugaardheader Opening Of The Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

DaugaardThis week I had the opportunity to attend the dedication of the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center in Lead. The visitor center will be something for South Dakotans and travelers from all over the world to see. Here people will learn about the history of Homestake and the Sanford Lab projects.

The Sanford Underground Research Facility is in the process of partnering with the Fermilab in Batavia, Illinois, to prepare for the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility and the associated Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE). This future experiment is a result of groundbreaking research that occurred in the lab while it was still the Homestake Mine.

This research, conducted by Ray Davis from the mid-1960s through the 1990s, sought small, neutral particles called neutrinos which generally pass right through the earth undetected and unimpeded. Because of their lack of interaction, their existence was only theoretical. Ray Davis, through an unprecedented combination of chemistry and physics, developed a way to use the low background radiation environment in the mine to prove the existence of neutrinos.

Initially, other scientists wrote off Davis’ project as a failure because he was detecting just one-third of the neutrinos he had expected to find. Eventually he was proven right when other scientists at SnoLab in Canada discovered that neutrinos spontaneously change, or oscillate as they travel, changing between three types. Davis’ research changed physics forever, and in 2002 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his neutrino experiment.

Now a new generation of physicists is building on Davis’ research to make their own discoveries deep underground at Sanford Lab. Scientists will use a high-intensity neutrino beam to send neutrinos from Batavia, Illinois, to Lead, South Dakota. Continuing the work Ray Davis started years ago, this experiment will attempt to explain properties of neutrinos, why they change and the nature of their changing states. While for most of us particle physics has many blind spots, the light this experiment can shed on at least one of them could be key to understanding the universe.

Sometimes in South Dakota, because we are small in population, and because we are largely rural, we have a bit of an inferiority complex. We sometimes fall into thinking that we can’t be the best or lead the way.

But that’s not true. And the things happening at the Sanford Underground Research Facility prove that we are a state that explores uncharted territory.

Since 1967, a panel of prominent scientists and academics, the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel, has advised the federal government about experimental and theoretical high energy physics. Recently this panel identified three physics projects around the world as high priority: one in Japan, one in Switzerland and the Long Baseline Neutrino experiment right here in Lead, South Dakota. In its P5 report, the panel called that experiment the physics project in America. It’s not hard to imagine that through this project another physicist working here in Lead, South Dakota, could win a Nobel Prize.

This Visitor Center will not only keep the Homestake story alive, but make it so the physics project in America doesn’t just stay below the surface. Updates about the Long Baseline Neutrino, Majorana and the LUX dark matter experiments will be available right here at this visitor center, so that people of all ages can learn about the cutting-edge research being conducted below. This new visitor center will play a role in passing a love of science on to future generations. It has the potential to spark in our young people a hunger for knowledge and a passion for possibilities.