January 25, 2006

Scientists to Pitch Homestake Experiments

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Scientists from around the country will gather in the Black Hills next month to pitch experiments to be performed thousands of feet below ground in an abandoned gold mine.

South Dakota is preparing to take ownership of the Homestake Mine from Toronto-based Barrick Gold Corp. (ABX) within a month, and that will allow officials to begin preliminary work aimed at turning a burrowed-out area 4,850 feet below Lead into an underground laboratory.

The state's long-term goal is to persuade the National Science Foundation to name Homestake as the site for a new national underground science lab. But scientists are already eager to start work, said Dave Snyder, executive director of the state Science and Technology Authority.

The Homestake Mine and the Henderson Mine in Colorado are finalists for the proposed national lab, to be called the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory.

Since sending out its solicitation for proposals in November, the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, based in Rapid City, has received 70 letters of interest from scientists pitching potential experiments in such fields as geology, physics, microbiology and rock mechanics.

An advisory committee led by Kevin Lesko, a physicist with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, will listen to the presentations and advise the authority.

"They will be evaluating the proposals to provide us with an opinion on how we should prioritize them and how they fit together," Snyder said. "And we have to also understand what they need for infrastructure and they have to understand what we have for infrastructure."

The Feb. 9-12 meeting will include workshops focusing on education and outreach opportunities and physics specialties including dark matter, solar neutrinos and nuclear astrophysics.

The Homestake Mine, which was closed by Barrick in 2003, had sheltered solar science since 1968 with the start of experiments in a crude laboratory 4,850 feet into bedrock. Work done there by scientist Ray Davis Jr. won the Nobel Prize for physics in 2002.

Barrick is donating the mine to the state, and the science authority is in the final stages of working out details in the property donation agreement, Snyder said.