Sanford Science Series Part 7: Into the future

 Scientists in Chicago will shoot a beam from Fermilab 800 miles through the earth to detectors deep underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. (Fermilab)
Scientists in Chicago will shoot a beam from Fermilab 800 miles through the earth to detectors deep underground at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. (Fermilab) (KOTA)
Published: May. 20, 2019 at 9:08 AM CDT
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Over the last few weeks, we've given you an in-depth look at what's going on at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, and that's just the beginning.

"The U.S. investment is well above a billion dollars so this will be one of the largest experiments that's ever been attempted on U.S. soil," said South Dakota Science and Technology Authority Executive Director Mike Headley.

The experiment is called the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment and is supported by the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility. That's where DUNE and LBNF come from.

In case you're wondering, neutrinos are cosmic particles found everywhere, but scientists know very little about them.

"They're very hard to detect but they're safe. Every second, 70 billion neutrinos pass through the tip of your nose mostly from the sun, and so the beam of neutrinos will create or about understanding them at their origin, at the beam itself, and understanding how they change when they get here," said Fermilab South Dakota Division Head Patrick Weber.

Basically, it's an internationally conceived mega-science project.

"So the experiment seeks to shoot a beam of neutrinos from Fermilab in Chicago, just outside of Chicago, to detectors here in South Dakota at the Sanford Underground Research Facility about 5,000 feet underground," said Weber.

It's just in the beginning stages as contractors are getting ready to excavate the rock.

"So to excavate the caverns underground, we're gonna pull up about 875,000 tons of rock to excavate the three caverns we will need," said Weber.

Four giant detectors will sit in the inside two caverns.

"And then on the inside, the interior of the middle cavern will have basically support equipment for these experiments. The detectors will have liquid argon in them, so there's cryogenic systems that have to be installed inside the, we call it the central utility cavern, to support these experiments," said Weber.

In many ways, it's the world's biggest ship-in-a-bottle problem. Contractors can hang items underneath the cage that brings people down underground, but it has to be done in an organized fashion.

Now, there's no way to tell what this experiment will do or the benefits, but anytime scientists can better understand the universe, there's a potential for huge outcomes.

"The best example I think is the radio. So, Marconi who invented the radio didn't actually discover radio waves, that was discovered by other scientists like Hertz. Only, after we understood how electrons move through the world, was Marconi able to understand that we could use that for communication," said Weber.

The scientific results may be unknown, but the economic impact to the area is a guarantee.

"It's on the scale of a billion dollars of economic impact for the state of South Dakota," said Weber. "It's a ton of jobs, a ton of contractors that we will be able to hire from the area who will need help building this project."

Some of the collaborators on the project include scientists at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology along with those from all corners of the world invested in the success of the experiment.

The hope is to have the detectors up and running by the end of next year, which is happening at the same time the Fermilab in Chicago is upgrading its beam.

Construction at the facility and experimental equipment will take around 10 years to complete, with the actual experiment itself planned to operate for at least 20 years.

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