This shows current and future labs, including the DUNE, at the 4,850-foot level of the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead.

LEAD | A group of scientists joined the state's governor and congressional delegation Friday afternoon to launch the Long-Based Neutrino Facility at the Sanford Underground Lab, a milestone that will lead to the largest scientific experiment ever conducted on U.S. soil.

The LBNF at the Sanford Lab and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory outside Chicago will eventually become home to the billion-dollar Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment — dubbed DUNE — a global mega-science experiment that heralds a new era in physics and the continuing search to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

The groundbreaking, broadcast simultaneously to the Fermilab, signaled the start of an experiment that will witness scientists at the Fermilab fire a beam of tiny neutrinos at near-light speed. It will carry the subatomic particles through solid rock 808 miles away to the Black Hills, where scientists deep underground at the Sanford Lab hope to “catch” the particles using four of the most sophisticated detectors ever built.

But first, workers must remove 875,000 tons of rock — more than twice that removed in carving nearby Mount Rushmore — from nearly a mile underground to create three massive caverns that will house the DUNE. The excavation alone is expected to last three years, and the $300 million South Dakota portion of the project represents the largest single investment in state history.

To date, the unprecedented collaborative international experiment has attracted nearly 1,000 scientists from dozens of institutions in 31 countries, said Sanford Lab Executive Director Mike Headley. 

“This project serves as a model of what the future of mega-science research looks like,” said Michael Kratsios, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump and deputy U.S. chief technology officer, who was on hand for the groundbreaking. “This is an intensely collaborative effort between local, state and federal governments, international partners, enterprising corporations and philanthropic pioneers.”

The state’s congressional delegation, including Sens. John Thune and Mike Rounds, and Rep. Kristi Noem, joined Gov. Dennis Daugaard in lauding visionary leaders and scientists who developed the experiment, which they said would create thousands of jobs, have a projected $1 billion economic impact on the state, result in high-tech advances and put South Dakota at the forefront of new-age scientific discoveries.

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“The DUNE just put South Dakota on the map for world-class discoveries in research and technology,” Thune said. “It will allow South Dakota to play a role in the science of tomorrow, a role that is both unique and distinctive in all the world.”

“This was a vision started almost two decades ago,” noted Noem, before alluding to the history of the former Homestake Mine in which the underground research facility is located. “This gold mine is still mining knowledge.”

Rounds, whom Thune labeled the “father” of the Sanford Lab because its origins are traced to his governorship, said the Sanford Lab and DUNE would encourage South Dakota students to stay in-state in the pursuit of world-class science. Rounds also thanked billionaire T. Denny Sanford for making a personal $70 million commitment to the research facility when its future was undetermined, and Berkeley scientist Kevin Lesko for getting the scientific community to back the Sanford Lab in its infancy.

International representatives expressed their support for DUNE and a collaboration that would “expand a shared pool of knowledge” and reflect a partnership between European and U.S. scientists engaged in groundbreaking particle physics experiments.

Daugaard said he remembered when the National Science Foundation declined to fund the Sanford Lab years ago, a move that could have led to desperation due to the 2003 closure of the Homestake Mine and the resulting loss of hundreds of jobs. But the governor added that the U.S. Department of Energy stepped up, diverted funds and kept the idea of an underground research facility alive.

“It’s a great lesson that sometimes patience and persistence are required to accomplish a great thing,” Daugaard said shortly after the underground ceremony concluded.

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