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Friday, September 11, 2015

Dr. Alonso provides a perspective on the Sanford Underground Research Facility

Jose Alonso 

Sep 5 (6 days ago)
to meLJ
A friend and co-worker from my days at the Sanford Lab forwarded your Sept 4 blog to me.  I compliment the writer on the very thorough research done on the early history of the Homestake mine conversion into the Sanford Lab, but would like to add some perspective to the narrative.

Most noteworthy is that the author failed to note the tremendous scientific and educational successes that have emerged already, as well as the huge growth that is about to take place.

-  The LUX experiment, currently the world’s leader in sensitivity for direct detection of dark matter, has been successfully deployed, and is right now in its main data-gathering period. In its initial “shake-down” run it already has established its world-record sensitivity. At the end of  this year the experiment will either have seen a signal for “WIMPs” (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), or will have pushed the sensitivity limit down about another order of magnitude.  In addition, the follow-on experiment, called LZ is being developed with international collaborators, and will be deployed also in the Davis Campus, at a depth of 4850 feet.

-  The Majorana Demonstrator Experiment is now approaching the end of its assembly and commissioning stage; this experiment has pushed the frontier of development of ultra clean materials, including the world’s purest copper that has been electroformed at the 4850 to avoid activation present in all copper exposed to cosmic rays.  Not to be alarmed, this activation level is insignificant for humans, compared to the constant bombardment by cosmic ray muons that we are all exposed to on the surface, but for the ultra-sensitive neutrinoless double beta decay Majorana experiment this ultra-pure copper is the difference between a highly meaningful experiment or scientific irrelevance.  This very critical experiment also includes a wide list of US and international partners, and is proceeding extremely well.

- The CUBED program, spearheaded by the University of South Dakota (Vermillion), is focused on research in ultra-low background environments, including the development of ultra-pure materials, and developing instrumentation for detection of ultra low-levels of radioactivity.

-  The CASPAR facility, the first stage of a large underground accelerator complex for studying extremely rare nuclear reactions that are known to be critical in the evolution of stars.  The first accelerator, a 1 megavolt electrostatic accelerator shipped from Notre Dame is just being installed and commissioned. Other accelerators are also planned for this facility. There is only one other accelerator complex like this, called LUNA, located in the large Italian underground laboratory at Gran Sasso, not far from Rome.

-  The broadly-based program of rock-mechanics and seismology, spearheaded by the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology that is contributing to the understanding of our Earth.  I remember seeing traces from the deep underground seismometers of the Fukushima earthquake, and the ringing of the siesmic waves as the whole planet responded to this major seismic event.

-  The deep-underground biology programs, finding new life species that thrive in the hot, humid underground environment, among which were the bacterial species discovered by Homestake many years ago that metabolizes the cyanide used in gold-ore processing.  Many new species continue to be discovered, also spearheaded by SDSM&T and Black-Hills State faculty.

-  The highly-successful educational outreach programs, including the Davis-Bahcall Fellowships, a program that selects 30+ South Dakota students (primarily aimed at Reservation students) for a summer of intensive immersion in the sciences, including travel to Gran Sasso, and Princeton, as well as involvement with underground research at the Sanford Lab.

-   The now well-known “Neutrino Day” celebrations, an open-house for the broader community that has brought close to 1000 visitors to the Sanford Lab for lectures, tours and hands-on demonstrations.

But the doors are just barely opening!  Upcoming in the next few years will be DUNE (Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment), a billion-dollar-plus experiment with multi-national collaborators that will produce a new high-intensity neutrino beam produced at Fermilab outside of Chicago, that is directed to a 34 thousand ton liquid argon detector to be installed in a new cavern complex at the 4850 level of the Sanford Lab.  This experiment will be the premier undertaking of the largest high-energy laboratory in the United States, placing the Sanford Laboratory at the very peak of what is referred to in the Physics community as the “Intensity Frontier.”

I am very proud of the Laboratory that I helped found, and I continue to follow its progress as it matures into one of the country’s leading research facilities.  I should also like to point out that while lacking in broad scientific background and experience, the initial leaders of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, coupled with the enthusiastic support of Governors  Janklow, Rounds and now Daugaard, provided  the acumen to negotiate the donation of the Homestake mine, raise the funds that enabled the first stages of reopening the mine for science (thank YOU Denny Sanford!) and emplacing the sound management basis for the successful establishment of the new National Laboratory.   I should add too, praise for the enthusiastic response and support of the “Homestake family,” miners whose vast knowledge of the mine and its environment provided the expertise to safely reopen  the mine and establish safe and effective operations procedures.  I am very proud to have worked with these wonderful people, and as you can see, am very proud of our accomplishments.

I should also clarify that my giving up the post of Laboratory Director in 2009 was certainly not due to frustration with SDSTA leadership or lack of support for the science program. Considering the highly-complex political situation, my resignation was the correct move to make at that time.  As the author of the blog implies, there were very complicated relationships evolving between the federal agencies (National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy), and the State and universities involved. The primary university was the University of California, that had been managing the “downselect” process that led to the naming of Homestake as the preferred site.  Remember, too, the wording of the NSF announcement was, “IF a deep underground laboratory is to be built in the US, it will be at Homestake.”  These weasel words proved prophetic when, in the midst of the 2010 federal budget crises the NSF Director chose to renegue on his earlier promise to fund the development of the laboratory.  I really give Ron Wheeler a tremendous round of applause for his steady leadership in guiding the Lab though those tumultuous times.  Even without a science background, Ron’s astute understanding of the situation and his political savvy were key to laying the groundwork for the successes that followed.

Jose Alonso, Director Emeritus, Sanford Laboratory

1 comment:

David Newquist said...

I thank and compliment Dr. Alonso for the most informative and coherent account of the important work being done at the sanford Lab that I have seen to date.

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