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Research@Mines - by Subject

South Dakota Mines Professor Reflects on IceCube’s 10th Anniversary and Discoveries at the South Pole

Dr. Xinhua Bai, associate professor of physics at South Dakota Mines shown here at the South Pole (seated lower right) during his research in 1998. Dr. Bai is among a group of scientists whose work helped establish the international IceCube Collaboration, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this week.

Ten years ago, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory fully opened its eyes for the first time, the eyes that allow curious scientists to “see” signals from passing astrophysical neutrinos: mysterious, tiny, extremely lightweight particles created by some of the most energetic and distant phenomena in the cosmos. IceCube is a gigantic three-dimensional detector for high energy cosmic rays, whose origins remained unknown, after they were discovered over a century ago.

South Dakota Mines associate professor of physics, Xinhua Bai, Ph.D., is among the original “dreamers,” which included a few dozen scientists, who helped start the international IceCube Collaboration. Today, the diverse group of researchers includes over 350 scientists from 53 institutions in 12 countries and five continents.

“I was extremely lucky to be one of the early scientists on this collaboration. After I received my Ph.D., driven by my curiosity, I started as a winter over scientist for the Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array and the South Pole Air Shower Experiment  in 1998.” Bai says. “The...

Last Edited 5/13/2021 04:23:50 PM [Comments (0)]

Remote Monitoring Stations Established at SD Mines in Build Up to DUNE

SD Mines physics graduate students and faculty at the remote monitoring station on campus include (left to right) Bhubnesh Lama, Luke Corwin, Ph.D., David A. Martinez Caicedo, Ph.D., Jairo Rodriguez and Michelle While.

Researchers in the Department of Physics at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology are setting up new remote monitoring stations that allow them to take part in the international experiments MicroBooNE and NOvA.  Both world-class experiments are investigating properties of neutrinos, one of nature’s most elusive particles. Both projects are also led by Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Neutrinos rarely interact with other particles; they can pass through the entire planet as if it were empty space. In order to study such particles, scientists need to create an intense beam of them and send them continuously through a large detector for long periods of time. Because of the need for intense beams, these experiments are said to take place at the Intensity Frontier of particle physics.

These experiments are on the cutting edge of particle physics research.  They are part of a series of sophisticated neutrino research projects that include the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE), hosted by Fermilab, which will see a massive particle detector built a mile b...

Last Edited 11/21/2018 12:04:42 AM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Scientists and Students Contribute to IceCube Breakthrough

In this artistic rendering, based on a real image of the IceCube Lab at the South Pole, a distant source emits neutrinos that are detected below the ice by IceCube sensors, called DOMs. Credit: Icecube/NSF

An international team of scientists, including researchers at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, have found the first evidence of a source of high-energy cosmic neutrinos, ghostly subatomic particles that can travel unhindered for billions of light years from the most extreme environments in the universe to Earth.

Detecting high-energy cosmic neutrinos requires a massive particle detector, and IceCube is by volume the world’s largest. Encompassing a cubic kilometer of deep, pristine ice a mile beneath the surface at the South Pole, the detector is composed of more than 5,000 light sensors arranged in a grid. When a neutrino interacts with the nucleus of an atom, it creates a secondary charged particle, which in turn produces a characteristic cone of blue light that is detected by IceCube and mapped through the detector’s grid of photomultiplier tubes. Because the charged particle along the axis of the light cone stays essentially true to the neutrino’s direction, it gives scientists a path to follow back to the source.

The observations, made by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the U.S. Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station and confirmed by telescopes around the globe and in Earth’s orbit, help resolve a more than a century-o...

Last Edited 7/19/2018 06:52:02 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)]

SD Mines Helps Keep Two of the World’s Most Sensitive Dark Matter Experiments Clean

Radon reduction researchers pictured with the machine they designed are (from left to right) SD Mines physics graduate student Joseph Street, Richard Schnee, Ph.D., along with lab technicians David Molash and Christine Hjelmfelt.

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is helping to ensure highly sensitive underground dark matter experiments are free of radon that could contaminate the results. SD Mines researchers are building a radon mitigation system at SNOLAB in Canada and at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, S.D.

The team, led by Richard Schnee, Ph.D., professor and head of the physics department at SD Mines, is building machines that filter out radon particles to produce ultra-pure air needed for the SuperCDMS experiment in SNOLAB and for the LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) experiment in SURF.  The team is also helping ensure the parts used to build the experiments are relatively free of radon.

“Our detectors need very low levels of radon,” Schnee says. While the radon levels at the 4850 Level at SURF are safe for humans, they are too high for sensitive experiments like LZ, which go deep underground to escape cosmic radiation, Schnee explains. “We will take regular air from the facility and the systems will reduce the levels by 1,000 times or more.”

The system in SURF will be installed in the...

Last Edited 2/25/2019 11:04:47 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)]