Date: July 12, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Physics Experiments Proposed For Underground Laboratory In South Dakota Would Address Scientific Questions Of ‘Paramount Importance,’ New Report Says
WASHINGTON — Proceeding with three physics experiments planned for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) would provide an “exceptional opportunity” for major scientific advances and give the U.S. a leading role in underground science, says a new report by the National Research Council. Although the future of DUSEL is uncertain, each of the proposed experiments addresses at least one crucial unanswered question “upon which the tenets of our understanding of the universe depend,” the report says.
The National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy have overseen the effort to build DUSEL, a major underground research laboratory to be located in an abandoned mine in Lead, South Dakota. The agencies asked the Research Council to assess the scientific value of the physics experiments proposed for the laboratory and the need to conduct the research in the U.S. given similar science programs in other countries. However, during the course of the study, NSF announced it would no longer be the principal steward for the facility. The two agencies are deciding how to proceed.
“These experiments have the potential to provide breakthrough discoveries in physics that scientists can build upon for decades to come,” said Andrew Lankford, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of California, Irvine, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “What’s more, performing this research in the U.S. could make our nation a world leader in the expanding field of underground science and have a significant positive impact not only on physics but also other areas of science such as geology and biology.”
Three major experiments are planned for the facility. The direct detection dark matter experiment would broaden knowledge about dark matter, a substance that makes up approximately 80 percent of the material universe. The long baseline neutrino oscillation experiment would provide significant advances in the study of neutrinos, the “ghost particles” of physics that could reveal critical information about how the universe evolved. This experiment would also enable other important physics research, such as the study of whether protons decay. And the neutrinoless double beta decay experiment is the only practical way to determine whether neutrinos are their own antiparticles, information that is vital to understanding how particles came into existence in the early universe.
The report says that benefits to the U.S. particle and nuclear physics communities would be greatest if the three experiments are led and conducted in a U.S. facility. In particular, performing the long baseline neutrino oscillation experiment in the U.S. would make the nation a world leader in this area because researchers could also draw on the capabilities of the Fermilab accelerator complex, located in Illinois. Co-locating the three experiments in one facility would also allow for efficient sharing of infrastructure and personnel. However, if a domestic site is not available for the dark matter and neutrinoless double beta decay experiments, U.S.-led projects in sites abroad would still provide significant benefits to the nation’s research communities.
Although the final decision on building an underground national lab will involve many other factors, including costs and the goals of funding agencies, such a laboratory could offer significant advantages over sending U.S. scientists to conduct experiments at facilities in other countries, the report notes. A U.S. facility would assure a leadership role in underground science and particle physics; U.S. scientists would be guaranteed access to the experiments with a laboratory on U.S. soil; and it could help meet increasing global demands for underground research facilities. In addition, valuable experiments in earth resources engineering, geology, and biology could also be conducted there, including how complex hydraulic, chemical, mechanical, and thermal forces interact with tectonic and gravitational forces to produce earthquakes, for example.
In addition to the three physics experiments, a small, accelerator-based study to measure low-energy nuclear cross sections would advance understanding of nuclear processes that generate stellar energy and explain aspects of solar neutrinos, the report says.
The study was sponsored by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council make up the National Academies. They are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. For more information, visit http://national-academies.org. A committee roster follows.
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Report in Brief
Pre-publication copies of An Assessment of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).
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NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Board on Physics and Astronomy
Committee on the Assessment of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL)