Looking for cosmic particles deep underground


A mile or so down, activity is afoot in the formerly disused Homestake Mine in South Dakota’s Black Hills.  Instead of digging for gold, researchers will hunt for cosmic particles at the Sanford Underground Laboratory. Going deep underground is a chance to revisit physics experiments, as current neutrino detectors are orders of magnitude more sensitive than their predecessors,  and try some new ones without interference from cosmic radiation. And when scientific data is generated, ESnet will be connecting to the networks that will bring it to researchers all over the country.

The Deep Underground Laboratory (DUSEL) is sponsored by the National Science Foundation. Berkeley physicist Kevin Lesko videolinked to the spring Internet2 members meeting from the Ross Shaft at the 4850 level. Clad in a hard hat, and black protective suit laced with reflective tape, Lesko stood in a drafty rock tunnel festooned with wires and pipes and described the search for the next big discoveries in physics. According to Lesko, the plan is to build laboratory modules in 5-6 stories high and a football field in length. In the Davis Cavity, physics experiments are planned for megacavities filled with detectors to catch neutrinos beamed from Fermilab in Chicago 1000 miles away.   There is also a large underground Xenon detector planned to help image dark matter. Geobiologists are sampling microbes to look for specialized bacteria that could give clues to the evolution of life. See the National Academies Press Report: The Limits of Organic Life in Planetary Systems

For this Big Science initiative, NSF is working with the DOE and building networking capacity into the project. There are 370 miles of tunnel in the mine. Engineering challenges include ensuring structural integrity, and pumping in air and pump out water to create a comfortable and safe working environment.  DUSEL’s network engineering team have already deployed 5 miles of single mode fiber 5000 feet down the mineshafts to provide network connectivity. The mine, filled with dust and humidity, is a harsh environment. Engineering teams are building redundant fiber links down the mine shaft for high-speed network access. The labs are in the design stage now, and a report will be finished by year’s end to submit to the NSF. Construction on the laboratory starts in 2014.–Wendy Tsabba