Lab uses “Angels and Demons” to raise awareness of research

Dr. Jose Alonso helps assemble the ATLAS Detector in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. (Photo courtesy of Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake)South Dakota has an underground science laboratory in the Black Hills. Neither I nor most of the state’s residents fully understand what goes on down there, but we know it’s important. The new movie "Angels & Demons" is now bringing a little more publicity to the lab.

First, a little background: The Homestake Mine, in the city of Lead, grew out of the Black Hills gold rush in 1876. Over the years, the mine grew into the largest and deepest gold mine in North America, producing gold worth more than $1 billion.

In 1965, a scientist named Ray Davis, who eventually won a Nobel prize for physics, installed a neutrino detector in the mine. Neutrinos, according to Wikipedia, "are elementary particles that often travel close to the speed of light, lack an electric charge, are able to pass through ordinary matter almost undisturbed and are thus extremely difficult to detect." Wikipedia also says that neutrino detectors "are often built underground in order to isolate the detector from cosmic rays and other background radiation."

In 2000, the Homestake Mining Company announced its plan to close the mine. Scientists soon began suggesting that the mine be converted to a national underground laboratory. South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and other state leaders latched on to the proposal immediately, hoping to bring high-tech jobs and research dollars to the state.

All kinds of funding has since been secured for the project, including a $70 million donation from well-known South Dakota philanthropist Denny Sanford. The lab is now called the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake. The gift included $20 million for an education center that will be open to the public.

In 2007, the National Science Foundation selected the lab as the site for a proposed national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, aka DUSEL. The NSF indicated it would provide $5 million for each of three years to develop a design for the lab.

That brings us to the current time, and the release of the movie "Angels & Demons" starring Tom Hanks. According to a news release issued Tuesday by the Sanford Underground lab, the movie "is about a plot to destroy the Vatican using antimatter made at the Large Hadron Collider and stolen from the European particle physics laboratory CERN."

Sounds confusing, but the good folks at the Sanford Underground Lab are making themselves available to help explain the "real science of antimatter" and how the lab research relates to the movie. Here’s the info, if you’re interested in going:

Two "Angels & Demons" lectures in the Black Hills are free and open to the public. Both talks are at 7 p.m. Dr. Jose Alonso (director of the lab) will speak Tuesday, May 12, at the Elks Theater at 512 Sixth St. in Rapid City and on Thursday, May 14, at Meier Hall on the campus of Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

About Author

Seth Tupper

Seth Tupper was born and raised in South Dakota and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from South Dakota State University in 2001. After college, he worked at a newspaper in Minnesota and then returned to South Dakota in 2003 to join the staff of The Daily Republic in Mitchell, where he is currently the publisher. Seth has won numerous awards for his writing, including the 2007 Outstanding Young Journalist award in the daily newspapers category of the South Dakota Newspaper Association’s Better Newspapers Contest. Seth’s day-job and freelance work have granted him opportunities to meet hundreds of South Dakotans and travel across much of the state. He also spends a lot of his free time exploring South Dakota’s state and national parks, hiking trails and kayak-friendly rivers.

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