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Officials tout South Dakota underground science lab

Chet Brokaw
AP Writer

Pierre, SD — A science lab being developed thousands of feet underground in an abandoned gold mine in South Dakota’s Black Hills aims to boost research and education worldwide, Gov. Mike Rounds said.

Rounds spoke in a video link to the Internet2 conference in Virginia dealing with improving the capacity and technology of the Internet. Scientists nearly a mile underground in the former Homestake gold mine also described how it is being converted into laboratories that will conduct research into physics, biology, geology and other subjects.

South Dakota already has spent $65 million to convert the mine into a science lab where experiments have already started at a level 4,850 feet underground. State officials want the National Science Foundation to take over paying for the project next year and turn the mine into a national underground physics lab with experiments possible nearly 8,000 feet below the surface.

The foundation has picked the site as the preferred location for a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, but more remains to be done to get final approval for the project and money from Congress.

Scientists want to conduct research into dark matter, neutrinos and other particles at the mine because the rock shields the experiments from cosmic radiation.

Kevin Lesko, a University of California-Berkeley physicist who is principal investigator for the project, said from a video link inside the mine that the experiments “are looking for the next big discoveries in physics.”

Rounds said the state also is building an educational facility on the surface next to the mine to connect scientists with teachers and their students around the globe.

“They can come in and plug in and look at all the different new types of experiments that are going on and plug that into their classroom so that they can instill in young people an active interest in cutting-edge science,” Rounds said.

“If we can do that, then the next generation of scientists, the next generation of mathematicians, starts to come out,” the governor told those on the video conference.

Rounds and other state officials said South Dakota has already connected the lab site, state universities and other locations to a high-capacity Internet system that will be able to carry the huge amount of data generated by the experiments.

The governor said Wednesday’s video conference, which lasted about an hour, allowed South Dakota officials to spread the word that the state has a good Internet system and intends to promote scientific research.

“It’s one more opportunity to share with the industries involved in high speed telecommunications that they have access here in South Dakota to this type of technology,” Rounds said after the conference. “It’s not simply being developed. It has already been developed and is in place now.”

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