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The next DUSEL proposal : all four teams are waiting for the NSF decision :: 10 May, 2007
The National Science Foundation’s recommendation for a site for a national underground laboratory will be greeted by cheers at one of four locations.
Teams of scientists representing the Homestake gold mine in Lead and sites in Colorado, Washington and Minnesota have spent thousands of hours and tens of thousands of dollars on their proposals -- each 250 pages long. They’ve also hosted site visits by an NSF panel of experts, and they made presentations to the NSF panel in Washington.
Now, all four teams are waiting for the NSF decision, which could come any time in the next few weeks.
The stakes are high. National laboratories typically employ hundreds of people, or more. A national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory could attract hundreds of millions of dollars in research. Over the course of decades, the investment could reach billions of dollars.
However, the NSF choice of sites this spring will mark only the beginning of an even longer process, and there’s no guarantee of success.
The chosen site team will receive as much as $5 million a year for up to three years to create a formal and detailed construction, engineering and science proposal.
A DUSEL could cost $300 million to build and start. It also would be the first new full-fledged national laboratory built in decades and a first initiated by the NSF. (The Department of Energy is the biggest patron of national laboratories.)
Because the project is so big, the next DUSEL proposal will be submitted to an NSF program called the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account, or MREFC.
The MREFC proposal will go to the National Science Board -- an advisory committee to the NSF. If the board approves DUSEL, the project goes on a list of MREFC proposals to await funding.
“It will have to compete with a variety of other kinds of science,” Sherry Farwell said.
Farwell is a professor and researcher at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology in Rapid City. He also was an early member of the Homestake team, and he’s also a veteran of two stints at the NSF.
Farwell said projects in fields such as genetic engineering, nanotechnology and high-energy physics (accelerators and the like) also are in the MREFC pipeline.
A DUSEL would have experiments in biology and geosciences, but the push for a DUSEL comes from astrophysicists and particle physicists, who use deep labs to shield sensitive experiments from background cosmic radiation.
High-energy physicists also might have a stake in a DUSEL, where a “target” could be set up to measure beams of neutrinos generated in far-away accelerators.
A broad range of experiments will make DUSEL more attractive, and recent success in underground science, particularly in neutrino physics, also add weight to the case for a DUSEL.
“The physics community is very vocal,” Farwell said. “But the process is open to anyone, and you have to prove a return on investment.”
The NSF’s budget request to Congress for fiscal 2008 said MREFC projects should “represent an exceptional opportunity” and that they should be “transformative in nature” and have “the potential to shift the paradigm in scientific understanding.”
Also of note, the NSF’s entire MREFC request for fiscal 2008 was $245 million -- or about the start-up cost of a DUSEL, which likely would be built over the course of several budgets.
On the plus side, a Homestake DUSEL already has some money. The state of South Dakota has raised a potential $115 million for the project in state and federal funds and a $70 million donation from Sioux Falls philanthropist Denny Sanford.
A South Dakota DUSEL might have another advantage, too, Farwell said.
Farwell recently completed 2-1/2 years at NSF headquarters running the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, better known as EPSCoR. The program funnels research money to traditionally research-poor states, such as South Dakota. A Homestake DUSEL might be eligible for EPSCoR money not available in Colorado, Minnesota or Washington.
Still, even if the NSF picks Homestake and even if the National Science Board approves a DUSEL, there is no guarantee Congress will fund the project.
“It will come down to the soundness of the plan and the projected return on investments relative to pushing back scientific frontiers,” Farwell said.
Physicists supporting all four sites make the case for that investment.
The late Ray Davis certainly pushed back scientific frontiers at Homestake, winning a Nobel Prize for a 35-year neutrino experiment 4,850 feet underground in the gold mine.
Recent breakthroughs in neutrino research in underground labs in Japan and Canada -- based in part on work by Davis -- have earned media headlines.
A researcher at an underground lab who detects other mysterious phenomena such as “dark matter” or “proton decay” will also win headlines -- and maybe a trip to Stockholm.
Whether the National Science Board, the White House and Congress will think those frontiers worthy of an investment remains to be seen.
News inside News:
A Homestake DUSEL: Pros and cons-
-- Depth: At 8,000 feet, it's the world's deepest available hole.
-- Money: The state has $105 million available.
-- Speedy start: An "interim" lab could start science next year.
-- Ownership: the state of South Dakota has the title.
-- Infrastructure: Hundreds of miles of tunnels, shafts and caverns.
-- Water: Homestake has been flooding for nearly four years.
-- Closure: No one's been in the mine for four years.
-- Location: Western South Dakota is far from a metro area.
-- Infrastructure: The tunnels are there, but now the mine is a fixer upper.
Dr. Marshak's new idea-
Physicist Marvin Marshak has added a unique twist to the University of Minnesota's plan for a national underground science laboratory.
"Our proposal would bring together all the sites that exist today in the United States, including Homestake," Marshak said during a recent interview at his office in the Tate physics building at the university's Minneapolis campus.
Marshak's novel idea could be good news, bad news or both for advocates of a lab at the Homestake gold mine in Lead, S.D.
The National Science Foundation is considering four sites for a proposed "Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory," or DUSEL. Marshak agreed that the two frontrunners in the DUSEL competition were Homestake and the Henderson molybdenum mine in Colorado.
But last fall, the NSF reopened the competition to include proposals from physicists at the University of Washington, who would build a lab in an old railroad tunnel, and to the University of Minnesota, which proposes using its Soudan Underground Laboratory.
However, when Marshak re-entered the underground-lab race, it was with a new strategy.
He suggests creating an "Institute for Underground Science" at the university campus at Minneapolis.
The IUS would oversee research at Soudan, of course, but the institute could also coordinate underground science at a deeper Homestake laboratory, as well as experiments at underground sites in Virginia and New Mexico.
The IUS could even coordinate U.S. experiments at the underground Sudbury Neutrino Observatory in Canada.
"In our view, there are five labs currently available in North America," Marshak said. "We see Homestake as one of the existing labs. Each of them has unique assets and strengths, and all of them, frankly, have some drawbacks."
Homestake's drawback is that the mine is closed, and it's slowly filling with water.
However, Marshak supports the state of South Dakota's plan, which includes reopening Homestake quickly to a depth of 4,850 feet for mid-level experiments. Later, Marshak says, when funding becomes more certain for deeper experiments, Homestake could be reopened to 7,400 feet.
"We think depth is an important criterion, but it's not the only criterion or even an overriding criterion," Marshak said. "There are very few experiments that really need that extreme depth."
In the meantime, Marshak argues, the IUS-Soudan proposal offers a quicker, cheaper, better coordinated path to underground science.
In the Minnesota proposal to the NSF, Marshak wrote: "This proposal sets forth a plan to make the U.S. a leader in underground science over the next decade by gradually building up infrastructure, without sacrificing the current generation of experiments and the training it offers the next generation of physicists."
An IUS, he says, could be set up almost immediately, and the Soudan lab is already doing science. "The advantages of the Soudan laboratory are mainly that it exists," Marshak said. "What we have is an existing site with a staff that's experienced in running an underground laboratory."
His plan also calls for sinking another shaft at Soudan, to about the depth of Homestake's 4,850-foot level.
Marshak also has a vision for Homestake. "There's been some fantastic work done by the state of South Dakota reinventing Homestake as a laboratory," Marshak said. "We would provide technical assistance."
Homestake supporters hope that most of the functions of a Minneapolis IUS would instead be done on a DUSEL campus in Lead -- at the surface and at various underground "levels."
Similarly, supporters of a laboratory at the Henderson molybdenum mine envision onsite teaching and visitor facilities at the mine, which is in Empire, Colo., about 50 miles west of Denver.
Those campuses could employ hundreds of people, but Marshak has a different idea. His experience at Soudan demonstrates that most experiments can be run remotely. The big MINOS neutrino detector at Soudan, for example, is operated from a control room at Fermi National Laboratory outside Chicago.
"Mostly, I just look at data," Marshak said. "You can do that from anywhere."
Henderson may be the most scenic, but it also boasts a modern, lab-ready mine-
All four sites the National Science Foundation is considering for a national underground laboratory are in tourist destinations.
The Homestake gold mine in Lead, S.D., is a mile high in the northern Black Hills.
The Soudan Underground Laboratory hugs the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in northern Minnesota.
The Pioneer railroad tunnel bores through Cowboy Mountain in the Cascade Range northeast of Seattle, Wash.
The underground-lab scenery prize, however, goes to the Henderson molybdenum mine in the Rocky Mountains, about 50 miles west of Denver.
The Henderson mine, at an altitude of 10,200 feet, nestles in a saddle between two 12,000-foot peaks — Red Mountain and Harrison Mountain — and it's surrounded by the Arapahoe National Forest. Clear Creek runs through the property, tumbling to the valley below.
Just downstream from the mine, a historical marker commemorates a long-ago reclamation project. Miners have been working Clear Creek County since the gold and silver rushes of the mid-19th century.
Henderson is still a working mine. In fact, it's one of the 10 largest underground mines in the world, but on the surface its modern, gray buildings have the look of a campus, especially after a foot or so of Rocky Mountain spring snow.
"That's the site I fell in love with," physicist Chang Kee Jung said in a recent telephone interview from Stony Brook University in New York. Jung is the principal investigator for the group of scientists supporting the Henderson proposal.
(He told Newsday last year discovering Henderson was like seeing Angelina Jolie for the first time.)
The NSF, of course, is not awarding a scenery prize.
Still, Henderson, along with Homestake, is a front-runner in the competition for the underground laboratory. (The NSF eliminated the Washington, Minnesota and four other proposals in 2005, then let sites reapply after the University of Washington formally protested the decision.)
Henderson's main scientific selling point is its instant infrastructure, starting with a shaft 28 feet in diameter and a hoist that can lower 50 tons at a time into the mine — or 200 people.
"It's an operating mine, and it's a modern mine," Jung said. "An operating mine also gives us superior safety," he said.
Underground, Henderson's roomy tunnels — "drifts" to miners — accommodate 40-ton, rubber-tired underground trucks.
Henderson also has an underground rock crusher and a 15-mile system of conveyors that can whisk ore and waste rock out the other side of the Continental Divide.
It's all part of a $150 million modernization program at Henderson that was completed in 1999. The effect is of a city underground.
"It's huge," said JoAnn Sorensen of nearby Georgetown, Colo. As director of Clear Creek County's Land Use Group, she's had an underground tour. "The size of the machinery operating down there — it's enormous. You just can't imagine."
Henderson's advantage also is a challenge, as one version of the Henderson proposal admits. If the lab and the mine share quarters, and especially access via the main shaft, scientists will have to adjust their schedules so as not to interfere with miners.
The Henderson ore would be mined out in about 20 years. Then, the lab would get sole possession, and conveyor tunnels that now haul rock out of the mine could be used for horizontal access.
Depth at Henderson
The surface of the earth is under a constant barrage of cosmic rays, which make it difficult to detect the "oscillations" of wispy, chargeless subatomic particles called neutrinos or the yet-to-be observed decay of protons or evidence of mysterious "dark matter" or clues as to why the universe seemed to choose matter over antimatter.
Underground labs block cosmic rays. The deeper the lab, the "quieter" the environment.
A Henderson lab would achieve depth in stages.
The existing main shaft at Henderson is about 2,500 feet deep — deep enough for many experiments, but not deep enough for a full DUSEL.
In a Henderson lab, therefore, tunnels would extend under the peak of Harrison Mountain. That would add to the protective overburden, but the Henderson plan is more complicated. It calls for laboratories at four levels, from an upper campus about 2,700 feet underground to a lower campus that could be as deep as 7,400 feet under Harrison Mountain, with access via a long, ramped tunnel and a new shaft.
In comparison, the Homestake proposal calls for an interim lab at 4,850 feet and a deep lab at 7,400 feet — in areas already mined out. But the lower levels of Homestake have flooded, and infrastructure would have to be re-installed.
That's a key debate between Homestake and Henderson: whether its cheaper and faster to mine new rock in an existing mine or pump water out of a closed mine and reopen it.
The Homestake group hopes to open an interim lab 4,850 feet underground by next year.
Jung said science could begin at an upper level at Henderson within three months of funding.
Science at Henderson
Science proposals at Henderson are similar to proposals for Homestake, Soudan and the Pioneer tunnel.
The deepest levels at Henderson could have dark-matter experiments, but geologist and geobiologists also are interested in underground science at extreme depths. Bore-hole samples at Henderson already have revealed undiscovered organisms, Jung said, and the prestigious Colorado School of Mines in Golden is only 40 minutes away.
The Henderson proposal also suggests the mine as a good target for neutrinos beamed from an accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York or Fermilab near Chicago.
Jung and his colleague, physicist Robert Wilson of Colorado State University, have one particular physics experiment in mind that also would provide an engineering challenge.
UNO, the Underground Nucleon Decay and Neutrino Observatory, would likely be at a mid-level underground campus. UNO also would be huge — a high-tech tank holding 660 kilotons of water in a cavern 200 feet wide, 200 feet tall and 600 feet long. (And with a $500 million price tag.)
Homestake, by the way, also proposes a "megaton" detector.
UNO would watch for neutrinos from a variety of sources — the atmosphere, the sun and from distant supernovas. It would also watch for dark matter and decaying protons.
The multi-tasking capability of UNO intrigues Wilson, mainly because it could do research in one of his favorite subjects: "asymmetry" for short, or "charge parity violations in the quark and lepton sectors" for those of you who paid attention in physics class.
The basics are easy enough. Matter and antimatter, if they behave like much of the symmetrical universe, ought to be present in roughly equal parts, Wilson said. But they're not. Antimatter is rare. "Where did it go?" Wilson asks, and it's not a rhetorical question.
He hopes an experiment at Henderson will reveal why the early, early universe "ever so slightly favored" matter over antimatter. (If it hadn't, we wouldn't be here to ask the question.)
Henderson and Homestake also share another characteristic: A DUSEL would be a boon to either community.
A local group called the Arapahoe Project has been formed in Clear Creek County to promote the lab, which has gained support from officials ranging from county commissioners to the Colorado Legislature.
"We're terribly excited about this," said Peggy Stokstad of the county Economic Development Corporation.
The would-be lab communities in Colorado and South Dakota also are different.
Homestake, for example, is inside city limits and solidly identified with Lead. Empire, Colo., the nearest town to the Henderson mine, is seven miles away.
The permanent population of Clear Creek County is just under 10,000 — less than half that of Lawrence County, S.D. — though traffic on Interstate 70 through Clear Creek County far exceeds I-90 traffic in Lawrence County — except during the Sturgis motorcycle rally.
Empire is four miles off I-70, on U.S. Highway 40. (It's on the way to the Winter Park Ski Resort.) Empire is small —about 450 people, or about the same as the number of workers at the Henderson mine. In fact, only a handful of miners live in Empire, and some commute from as far away as Golden, just outside Denver.
Still, local business people are hopeful.
Sarah Olunek, 24, Eric Rebo, 31, and Dave Johnson, 46, are all partners in the Hard Rock Cafe on Park Avenue, which is Empire's Main Street. (Sarah describes herself as "the sidekick.")
The Hard Rock Cafe — which was sued by a bigger business of the same name and which now can't advertise outside Colorado — rents space from the town of Empire. (City hall is on the second floor.)
The cafe is a local gathering place for breakfast and lunch, but walk-in traffic isn't enough to keep the place going. The three partners also do catering, and they often make box lunches for miners. They cater at Henderson, including the "safety breakfasts" that reward miners for working injury free.
"Of course it would be good for the community," Rebo said.
Olunek said a lab could mean "more money, more tourists, more jobs, more families."
But like many residents of the Black Hills, the three Hard Rock partners, who met in Denver, didn't come to Empire expecting to cash in on boom times.
"I just love it here," Johnson said.
Ron Morris, 69, who restores antiques in his store and shop at the other end of the block, also loves Empire, though he admits he's a bit of a public-meeting gadfly.
Morris agrees an underground lab would be good for Empire and for the county, though he wishes the visitor's center could have been in the Empire elementary school, which recently closed. (The deal fell through. It's a long story.)
And like many Lead residents who have seen booms and busts in a mining town, Morris retains some skepticism about the future of underground science up the highway from Empire.
"I call it the lottery," Morris said. "I'm not going to get too excited about the lab yet."
SNOLab and its Implications for North American Underground Science Planning-
Some of the most compelling questions in science – the origin of dark matter, the nature of neutrino mass, the
stability of the nucleon, the source of the CP violation responsible for the excess of matter over antimatter – are motivating a new generation of low-background experiments . To escape interference from cosmic ray muons and the secondaries they can produce, such experiments must be located deep underground. Finding suitable space has been an important concern of underground scientists for four decades. European scientists have exploited the continent’s many deep road and railway tunnels. Italy’s Gran Sasso , a horizontalaccess facility built off the Appenine road tunnel between L’Aquila and Teramo, is perhaps the premier European laboratory, providing 3.03 km.w.e. (kilometers of water equivalent) of overburden. [Throughout this paper we define overbuden as the depth under a flat surface surface that would give an equivalent muon flux, so that sites with different topographies can be fairly compared. These depths are calculated in Ref. . Typically, for a mountain site, the peak overburden would be greater than this depth by 0.6-1.2 km.w.e.] Frejus, a laboratory built off the French-Italian road tunnel that connects Modane with Bardonecchia, is located at a depth of 4.15 km.w.e. Other European laboratories include Boulby (Great Britain), CUPP (Finland), and CanFrance (Spain). Also notable is Russia’s Baksan Laboratory, for which a dedicated tunnel was constructed under Mt. Andyrchi in the Caucasus, the first example of a purposebuilt deep facility. Japan has mounted a very successful underground program at Kamioka , a horizontal-access site within an unused portion of that mine. Several large-volume detectors for solar and atmospheric neutrino, nucleon decay, and reactor neutrino studies have been deployed successfully there (2.04 km.w.e.). Future plans include a ma jor Xe-based solar neutrino/dark matter experiment and a long-baseline accelerator neutrino experiment: T2K will direct the neutrino beam produced by the Japanese Hadron Facility to the 50-kton Super-Kamiokande detector. Lacking Europe’s network of deep tunnels, North American scientists have fewer options for developing parasitic laboratories. Three sites are currently in operation, and all require vertical (hoist and shaft) access, a feature that frequently increases the cost and difficulty of underground operations. Two of these are in the U.S. The Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) , near Carlsbad, New Mexico, provides an overburden of 1.58 km.w.e., while Soudan , a former iron mine now operated by Minnesota as a state park, is at 1.95 km.w.e. The former has a modern high-capacity lift, but this lift is available to science only when such use does not interfere withWIPP’s main function. The latter has a hoist that is generally available for science, though the cage’s internal compartment dimensions (1.2m by 1.8 m) and capacity (6 tons) somewhat limit access. The Soudan Laboratory has conducted a vigorous underground science program for many years, including dark matter studies, long baseline neutrino physics, and proton decay. The third site is Canada’s Sudbury Neutrino Observatory, a laboratory built to house a heavy-water solar neutrino detector that had especially stringent background requirements. SNO is located below 2 km of rock in the Sudbury Mine, an active nickel mine. The site is now being developed as the world’s first very deep (6.01 km.w.e) multipurpose laboratory, dubbed SNOLab . In our view SNOLab is an important step forward that should influence the U.S. strategy on underground science.
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