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Mining for Gold, Neutrinos and the Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay

by Kathy Chambers on Tue, September 23, 2014

Alternate Text PlaceholderDeep within the caverns of Lead, South Dakota is one of the nation’s preeminent underground laboratories. The site of the former Homestake Mine was once one of the largest and deepest gold mines in North America. This famous mine was discovered during the 1876 Black Hills gold rush and maintained a rich and colorful mining history for the next 125 years. When the mine became unprofitable it closed in 2003, having produced more than 40 million ounces of gold over its lifetime.

Mining continued after its closure for a different type of treasure. Scientific researchers recognized they now had a unique space a mile underground where sensitive physics experiments could be shielded from contaminants and cosmic radiation. Here nuclear chemist Ray Davis and his colleagues installed a solar neutrino experiment underground in the mine called the "Homestake Experiment," the large-scale radiochemical neutrino detector which first detected evidence of neutrinos from the sun. Davis shared the 2002 Noble Prize in Physics for this discovery with physicist Masatoshi Koshiba and Riccardo Giacconi.

After the Homestake Mine closed in 2003 and the company dedicated the property to South Dakota for use as an underground laboratory. The Homestake Mine became the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab), a dedicated underground laboratory where researchers advance our understanding of the universe by looking for the nature of dark matter and the properties of neutrinos. In 2011, the Department of Energy, Office of High Energy Physics, agreed to fund ongoing research at the Sanford Lab, with the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority operating the lab through the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who provides management and oversight for operations.  

The first two major experiments at the lab were the Large Underground Xenon Detector (LUX) for dark matter research, and MAJORANA Demonstrator, a sensitive detector prototype that aims to detect the rare signal of neutrinoless double beta decay. If found, this phenomenon would indicate that subatomic particles called neutrinos are their own antiparticles and could help determine why matter prevailed over antimatter. Another major experiment--the Long Baseline Neutrino Experiment (LBNE), a collaboration with Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) and Sanford Lab--is in the preliminary design stages and is already being called the “next frontier in particle physics.”


To obtain additional information about the search for the neutrinoless double beta decay and other neutrino-related research efforts, go to In the OSTI Collections: Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay--Are Neutrinos and Antineutrinos the same?, by Dr. William Watson, visit the recent DOE Science Showcase - Neutrinoless Double Beta Decay, and search through OSTI’s premier scientific information resources including SciTech Connect, DOE’s free portal to research and development results and the new DOE Pages Beta for access to journal articles and accepted manuscripts resulting from DOE research funding.


Page last updated on 2017-03-21 11:40

About the Author

Kathy Chambers's picture
Kathy Chambers
Technical Writer, Information International Associates, Inc.