Technician Bill Heisinger drills holes in the shaft wall for a plaque June 22 in a dedication ceremony the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory at the former Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, S. D. Before the labs are built, crews must also stabilize the tunnels and install new infrastructure.
Far below the Black Hills of South Dakota, crews are building the world's deepest underground science lab at a depth equivalent to more than six Empire State buildings — a place uniquely suited to scientists' quest for mysterious particles known as dark matter.
Scientists, politicians and other officials gathered Monday for a groundbreaking of sorts at a lab 4,850 foot below the surface of an old gold mine that was once the site of Nobel Prize-winning physics research.
The site is ideal for experiments because its location is largely shielded from cosmic rays that could interfere with efforts to prove the existence of dark matter, which is thought to make up nearly a quarter of the mass of the universe.
"The fact that we're going to be in the Davis Cavern just tickles us pink," said Tom Shutt of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, referring to a portion of the mine named after scientist Ray Davis Jr., who used it in the 1960s to demonstrate the existence of particles called solar neutrinos.
Davis and a colleague named John Bahcall won a share of the 2002 Nobel Prize for physics for their work.
The old Homestake Gold Mine in a community called Lead (pronounced LEED) was shut down in 2001 after 125 years. Pumps that kept the mine dry were turned off years ago, so workers have been drying it out to prepare for the new research.
Before the labs are built, crews must also stabilize the tunnels and install new infrastructure. The lab at 4,850 feet is not much to look at yet. A rusty orange film covers the walls, floors, ceilings and debris left behind by miners.