For more than five years, Ross Shaft crews have been stripping out old steel and lacing, cleaning out decades of debris, adding new ground support and installing new steel to prepare the shaft for its future role in world-leading science. On Oct. 12, all that hard work paid off when the team, which worked its way down from the surface, reached a major milestone: the 4850 Level.

“As we got closer to the station and we could see the lights off the 4850, there was a lot of excitement from the crew,” said Mike Johnson, Ross Shaft foreman. “It was like, ‘Man, we’re finally here.’”

Mike Headley, executive director for the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, praised the Ross Shaft team. “The Ross Shaft is critical to the future of Sanford Lab and I am incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication shown by this team.”

Refurbishing the shaft is just one step toward a much larger goal, said Chris Mossey, Fermilab’s deputy director for LBNF. “Completion of the Ross Shaft renovation to the 4850 Level is critical to support construction of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility. Thanks to the Sanford Lab crews, who have worked since August 2012, to reach this significant milestone.”

LBNF will house the international Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), which will be built and operated by a collaboration of more than 1,000 scientists and engineers from 31 countries. Fermilab will shoot a beam of neutrinos 800 miles through the earth from Fermilab to massive particle detectors deep underground at Sanford Lab's 4850 Level.

When complete, the Fermilab-hosted LBNF/DUNE project will be the largest experiment ever built in the United States to study the properties of mysterious particles called neutrinos. Unlocking the mysteries of these particles could help explain more about how the universe works and why matter exists at all.

But before scientists begin installing the DUNE detectors, the shaft needs to be completed to the 5000-foot level and a rock conveyor system installed to excavate the caverns that will house DUNE. Still, there's much to celebrate. 

“This is a great accomplishment,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a team with different experiences and talents and they really worked together to reach this milestone." But Johnson said credit goes to a lot people who have never set foot in the shaft.

“Engineers, fabricators, vendors, electricians, procurement — everyone played a part in getting us to this point,” he said. “It takes a lot of planning and support. It was a real team effort."