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Research@Mines - by Subject
Cosmology

Radio-Pure Nearly a Mile Down: Keeping Dark Matter Detectors Clean and Accurate

Eric Morrison a Ph.D. graduate student at South Dakota Mines in front of the air purifier used with LZ.

If you want to breathe some of the most radioactive free, or “radio-pure,” air on earth, go 4,850 feet underground to the site of the LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF).

A research team at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology has built an air purifier that has reduced the radon in the air to about 50 times lower than typical outdoor air. The team is helping to ensure success for one of the world’s most sensitive dark matter experiments — LZ. Dark matter has never been directly observed. But it is believed to make up 85% of all the matter in the universe. The mystery of dark matter is considered to be one of the most pressing questions in particle physics. The LZ experiment is run deep underground where it will be protected from high-energy particles, called cosmic radiation, which can create unwanted background signals. But underground environments pose other challenges. They are often higher in radon, which can also impede sensitive experiments.

“Usually the concentration of radon underground is quite high, but the equipment that has been installed in SURF reduces radon background by a factor of a thousand,” says Richard Schnee, Ph.D., the physics department head at...

Last Edited 2/3/2020 09:16:58 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Team Pushes to Put CubeSat Swarm in Space

This image shows what a swarm of CubeSats orbiting Earth might look like. Credit NASA.

Satellites are often thought of as huge complicated devices that are deployed on the tops of rockets or in space shuttle payloads. They hold massive telescopes, sophisticated weather monitoring devices or global positioning system components.  The price tag for large satellites is often measured in billions, not millions. 

CubeSats are different. They’re smaller - think volleyball, not Volkswagen - and they’re cheaper.  NASA describes a CubeSat as a “low-cost pathway to conduct scientific investigations and technology demonstrations in space, thus enabling students, teachers, and faculty to obtain hands-on flight hardware development experience.”  The cost of these nanosatellites is small enough to fit into many school budgets. CubeSats are built to investigate areas of scientific interest such as the earth’s atmosphere, space weather, in-space propulsion, radiation testing, and communication, to name a few. Satellites are selected based on their investigations and how they align with NASA’s strategic plan.

One area of CubeSat research at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is to expand from one small satellite to a swarm of small satellites working together. This has the potential to multiply the impact and effectiveness of a single CubeSat.

“Sometimes you want t...

Last Edited 9/3/2019 04:50:28 PM [Comments (0)]

Ballooning in the Shadow of the Moon

This image, courtesy of the South Dakota Solar Eclipse Balloon Team, shows the moon's shadow crossing the Nebraska Panhandle during the Great American Eclipse of 2017.

At 10:35 a.m. on August 21, 2017, in a field in front of a small Nebraska Panhandle farmhouse, a team consisting of SD Mines students, Black Hills area high school students, teachers and community members, meticulously followed a set of steps they had practiced many times before. Payloads were carefully secured, batteries checked, and scientific instruments turned on and tested. Soon, helium was coursing through a hose from tanks in the back of a pickup truck into an eight-foot-tall balloon laid out on the soft grass.

Above the desolate cornfields and sandhills of northwestern Nebraska the moon was starting its path across the sun–the arc of its shadow racing across the country toward this team. The Great American Eclipse was underway.

The South Dakota Solar Eclipse Balloon Team had been working for two years to prepare for this one sliver in time. Their goal—to launch this balloon at the exact moment to loft the payload to an altitude of about 100,000 feet, under the moon’s shadow, during two minutes of totality. On board were video cameras, a radiation detector, GPS, and other scientific experiments. This project aimed to capture images and data from the eclipse. The radiation detector would help measure the flux of cosmic rays in the upper atmosphere as the moon obscured the sun. The video cameras would capture the circle of the moon’s shadow on the earth. The team designed and built some of ...

Last Edited 5/17/2018 09:53:34 PM [Comments (0)]

Growing Copper Deep Underground: SD Mines Plays Integral Role in Successful MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR Experiment

Much of the experiment’s copper is processed underground to remove both natural radioactivity (such as thorium and uranium) and radioactivity generated above ground when cosmic rays strike the copper. Electroforming relies on an electroplating process that over several years forms the world’s purest copper stock. Ultrapure copper is dissolved in acid and electrolytically forms a centimeter-thick plate around a cylindrical stainless-steel mandrel. Any radioactive impurities are left behind in the acid. Here collaborator Cabot-Ann Christofferson of the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology measures the thickness of copper pulled from an electroforming bath. Credit: Sanford Underground Research Facility; photographer Adam Gomez

The collaborators working on the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR have published a study in the journal Physical Review Letters showing the success of the experiment housed in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF). The success of the MAJORANA DEMONSTRATOR opens the door for the next phase of the experiment and sets the stage for a breakthrough in the fundamental understanding of matter in the universe. 

The experiment, led by the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, involves 129 researchers from 27 institutions and six nations. The South Dakota School of Mines & Technology was an integral part in facilitating the underground laboratory space at SURF and helped lead the effort to build the ultra-pure components needed to construct a successful experiment. 

“The goal was to demonstrate the feasibility and capability to build a larger one-ton experiment,”  says Cabot-Ann Christofferson, the Liaison and a Task Leader within the  MAJORANA Collaboration at the Sanford Underground Lab and an...

Last Edited 6/28/2018 07:05:55 PM [Comments (0)]

South Dakota Space Grant Awards $176,000 in NASA Funding to SD Mines and Five South Dakota Institutions

A team of Mines students working on a component of the National Solar Eclipse Balloon Project. This is one example of a research funded by the South Dakota Space Grant Consortium headquartered at Mines.

The South Dakota Space Grant Consortium (SDSGC) has provided nine awards totaling approximately $176,000 in NASA funding to SD Mines and five affiliate members of the Consortium.

The Space Grant Consortium, headquartered at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, is a statewide network of 20 member organizations from education, industry and government. As the link between NASA and the citizens of South Dakota, the Consortium’s mission is to instill the spirit of exploration and discovery in students, educators and the general public, with a special focus on the fields of science, technology, engineering and math that are essential for the development of the nation’s workforce.

One grant of $17,100 was awarded directly to a Mines student, Kari Pulli, a junior in mechanical engineering, as a scholarship for a project titled “Student CO-OP for Aerospace and High-Altitude Technology Development.”  Pulli was selected by officials at Raven-Aerostar for an eight-month student internship at its Sioux Falls facility. This is on top of a previously announced SDSGC grant of $25,000 to SD Mines for a project titled: “Computational Astronomy for Teachers and Their Students.

In total, nine winning projects were competitively selected from among 15 proposals submitted under the SDSGC’s FY2016 Project Innovati...

Last Edited 2/3/2017 05:02:17 PM [Comments (0)]

Strieder Leads Sanford Lab CASPAR Team in Unlocking Secrets of the Universe

Mines physicist Dr. Frank Strieder is the principal investigator on the CASPAR experiment at the Sanford Underground Research Facility.

In a cavern buried beneath a mile of rock at the Sanford Underground Research Facility, a School of Mines team has spent the last year assembling an accelerator that could alter the scientific world with quiet bursts of energy.

The Compact Accelerator System Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR) experiment hopes to understand the origins of the universe by mimicking nuclear fusion in stars, studying the smallest scale possible to understand the largest scale possible.

Led by South Dakota Mines’ Dr. Frank Strieder of the Department of Physics, the team of scientists includes researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the Colorado School of Mines, as well as seven Mines students—three doctoral students and four undergraduates. Strieder designed the 45-foot-long accelerator and spent a year purchasing or machining parts and then assembling them.

Data collection is expected to begin within the next month.

The idea behind the experiment is to generate the type of energy inside a star, allowing scientists to understand how stars were formed and where they are in their lifespan, which could lead to other discoveries about life in the universe.

One kilometer away inside another cavity of the sprawling deep underground laboratory, Ray Davis observed for the first time 50 years ago that neutrinos came from the sun. Davis earned the Nobel Prize for his discovery.

“We know bas...

Last Edited 11/3/2016 09:09:08 PM [Comments (0)]