NSF strikes gold

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen a former South Dakota gold mine as the site for a multipurpose deep underground science and engineering laboratory.

Homestake, a former gold mine in the Black Hills near Lead, South Dakota, was selected from a proposal put forward to the NSF by the University of California at Berkeley. The site was one of four under consideration.

The underground research site will be named the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (SUSEL), after T Denny Sanford, owner of the First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard, who donated $70m to the project.

‘On behalf of the citizens of South Dakota, I encourage and welcome collaboration members from the other three proposed sites to join us in making the SUSEL a world class laboratory,’ said Mike Rounds, governor of South Dakota.

With more than 603.5km of tunnels and a depth of 2.45km, Homestake is the deepest mine in the US.

‘The Homestake mine is a vast site capable of hosting a comprehensive suite of experiments in all major fields of science, including low background physics experiments and particle and nuclear physics experiments that require very large detectors,’ said Kevin Lesko, a physicist who holds a joint appointment with UC Berkeley and the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

‘Experiments at SUSEL will also open entire new avenues for basic engineering studies that could extend our understanding of rock properties, create and stabilize future excavations, and develop new technologies and techniques to create safer underground environments.’

Two levels of laboratories are planned for construction within the former mine over the next 30 years, one at a depth of 1.48km and a second at 2.26km.

The South Dakota Science and Technology Authority announced an investment of $35m in the conversion project, in addition to a $10m Housing and Urban Development grant being used to reopen the shafts and install pumping equipment to remove water from the lower levels of the mine.