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News from the National Academies

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.

 

Contacts: 

Molly Galvin, Senior Media Relations Officer

Luwam Yeibio, Media Relations Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail news@nas.edu

 

Additional resources:

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)



Andrew J. Lankford (chair)
Professor and Chair
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of California
Irvine

Yoram Alhassid
Professor of Physics
Center for Theoretical Physics
Yale University
New Haven, Conn.

Eugenio Coccia
Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics
University of Rome Tor Vergata
Rome

Charles Fairhurst1
Professor Emeritus
Department of Civil Engineering
University of Minnesota, and
Senior Consulting Engineer
Itasca Consulting Group Inc.
Minneapolis

Bradley Filippone
Professor of Physics
California Institute of Technology

Pasadena

Peter Fisher
Professor of Physics, and
Division Head
Particle and Nuclear Experimental Physics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

Takaaki Kajita
Director
Institute for Cosmic Ray Research
University of Tokyo
Kashiwa, Chiba
Japan

 

Stephen E. Laubach
Senior Research Scientist and Jackson Research Excellence Fellow
Bureau of Economic Geology
Jackson School of Geosciences
University of Texas
Austin

 

Ann Nelson
Professor
Department of Physics
University of Washington
Seattle

Rene A. Ong
Professor
Department of Physics and Astronomy
University of California
Los Angeles

Frank J. Sciulli 2

Pupin Professor of Physics Emeritus

Columbia University

New York City

 

Marjorie Shapiro

Senior Faculty Member

Physics Division

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and

Professor of Physics

University of California

Berkeley

James M. Tiedje2
University Distinguished Professor of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics and Crop and Soil Sciences, and
Director
Center for Microbial Ecology
Michigan State University
East Lansing

 

David Wark

Senior Laboratory Fellow

Rutherford Appleton Laboratory

Science and Technology Facilities Council, and

Professor of Physics

Imperial College London

London

 

STAFF

 

James Lancaster

Study Director

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1 Member, National Academy of Engineering

 

2 Member, National Academy of Sciences