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Sanford lab offers opportunities to DSU students

February 21, 2017

At first blush, it may not seem as if the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead has much to do with Dakota State University in Madison. Digging deeper, though, revealed multiple opportunities for mutual benefit at a presentation on the DSU campus on Feb. 15.

The “Deep Talk” about SURF, presented by the Sanford Lab’s Executive Director Mike Headley, and Science Director Jaret Heise, provided basic information about the lab -- its history as the Homestake Gold Mine, its 700 acre underground physical footprint, the well-known science experiments with dark matter and neutrinos, and lesser known experiments with geology and biology. They also talked about the lab’s economic effect on the state, to the tune of $171 million.

“This is science for science’s sake,” Headley said, “but a lot of other benefits come from this.”

DSU President José-Marie Griffiths asked about their process for data collection, a potential benefit for DSU. Heise said each experiment handles their own data for security and proprietary reasons, but they don’t have the ability to store all that data on site, so they have a conduit to other institutions which have clusters for doing analysis.

One of the new experiments which will come on line in the next few years, a long baseline neutrino facility associated with the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF-DUNE), “will primarily use computing facilities at Fermi (labs near Chicago, IL), and also CERN (in Switzerland),” said Headley, using a high-speed network to and from the Lead facility.

As the experiments develop, however, and “become more sophisticated and larger [dealing with the data] becomes a problem,” Headley said, adding, “in the context of this group, I do think there is a role if DSU wants a role in the processing of data,” either on the algorithm side or more on the computing side.

“There certainly would be interest in that,” he continued, because that “is a huge challenge, the complexity of dealing with the huge volume of data.” For example, with LBNF there will be thousands of events happening constantly, so “the computing side of this [is something people] don’t think about when thinking about the complexity of these experiments.”

“On the scale that we’re talking about with LBNF-DUNE, I think that’s one of the biggest risks and challenges to the experiment is how do you deal with all the data and make sense of the science,” Headley said.

Dealing with data appealed to General Beadle Honors student Zach Kerkaert, a cyber ops major from Marshall, MN. The talk piqued his interest about the honors students’ upcoming trip to the facility in April, although he admitted to being a little nervous about the 11-minute ride down the 4,850-foot deep tunnel.

The talk and upcoming tour also appealed to fellow honors student Sabrina Simons, an animation major from Brandon, S.D. While her major will not play directly into the science taking place at the facility, she was interested by the concepts.

Simons has always thought “outside of the box,” she said, enjoying the gifted education courses in elementary school, and discussions that “make your mind work a little.”

Kerkaert recalled watching a video on multi-verse theory in their honors science class. “We spent the next two or three hours talking about string theory and multi-theory,” he said, “pondering the existence of the universe,” Simons added.

“That was so much fun,” Kerkaert said, although it was exhausting. “I slept so good that night.”

Presentations like “Deep Talks” that explore these concepts are important whether you are a technology or a fine arts majors, Simons thought, because they expand the mind. “There is a difference between knowing and intelligence,” she said, with Kerkaert adding, “It’s also about being able to apply that knowledge.”

Simons has seen knowledge of the labs applied in a unique way. Her high school art teacher had visited the lab a few years ago, and did an art piece on a now-decommissioned piece, the LUX, or Large Underground Xenon experiment. She hopes to see the old machine, because “I would like to see what he saw.”

About 70 people attended the Deep Talk, a majority of college students, but also university faculty and staff and community members.