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For inquiries related to SD Mines Research, contact:

Research Affairs

S.D. School of Mines & Technology
501 E. St. Joseph Street
Suite 102, O'Harra Building
Rapid City, SD  57701

(605) 394-2493

Research@Mines - by Subject
Physics

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 12:52:02 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 03:53:34 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Work to Develop Latent Fingerprint and DNA Collection System

The Latent Fingerprint Extraction Team includes (from left to right) Sierra Rasmussen, graduate student; Jon Kellar Ph.D., Mines; William Cross Ph.D., Mines; John Hillard, undergraduate student; John Rapp, graduate student; Stanley May, Ph.D., USD; Jeevan Meruga, Ph.D., SecureMarking, LLC.

Researchers at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology and the University of South Dakota in Vermillion have received a grant of more than $840,000 from the National Institute of Justice to research the development of a handheld device that will read fingerprints and potentially collect DNA. The device, which might look like a handheld bar code reader or be attached to a smartphone, uses nanoparticles and infrared light to detect latent fingerprints on surfaces where fingerprint extraction has traditionally been difficult.    

“We’re designing the whole system,” says Bill Cross, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Materials and Metallurgical Engineering at SD Mines. “This also could potentially connect via the internet to various fingerprint databases and produce real time results at the scene of the crime or back in the forensic lab.” 

Traditional development of fingerprints has limitations due to several factors, such as the surface where fingerprints are found. Tools with neon colored handles, for example, don’t work well with some curren...

Last Edited 4/26/2018 04:31:36 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 01:05:55 PM [Comments (0)]

SD Mines Researchers Help Ensure a Clean Signal in Next-Gen Dark Matter Detector at Sanford Lab

Lab technician Rashyll Leonard completes connections for collecting radon from the LUX experiment underground at SURF during decommissioning, September 20, 2016. Photo credit: Dr. Eric Miller.

The LUX-ZEPLIN (LZ) dark matter detector in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead reached a major milestone this week. U.S. Department of Energy approval for the final design of the LZ experiment launches the construction phase and pushes the project toward the completion goal of April, 2020. Next-gen dark matter detectors have become sensitive enough that researchers around the world are now more confidently racing to be the first to directly observe the existence of dark matter particles. LZ is in direct competition with two projects in Italy and China. Researchers at South Dakota School of Mines &Technology are playing a key role in the detection and removal of radon from the sensitive equipment to ensure LZ has the cleanest signal possible.

"Physicists at Mines are playing a role in one of the most exciting physics experiments in the world,” said SD Mines President Heather Wilson.

LZ is being placed almost a mile underground to reduce the impact of cosmic rays that can hide the potential dark matter signal. But other types of background radiation and contamination can also produce false signals and hurt the effort to detect dark matter. Researchers must painstakingly measure all components of LZ for naturally occurring radiation. One challenge is the removal of radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that could interfere with dark ...

Last Edited 6/13/2017 10:34:47 AM [Comments (0)]

New Grant Funds Researched-Based Economic Development

Dr. Juergen Reichenbacher outside his clean room laboratory on campus.

A new state grant and matching commitments totaling $342,424 are bolstering research-based economic development at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.

The funds, including a $200,000 grant from the Board of Regents, are being used to buy scientific instruments for existing projects. Among them are two research endeavors at the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in nearby Lead. A third project expands on the university’s current success to commercialize a biomass liquefaction process.

Over the past decade, SD Mines has been supporting efforts at SURF to build a strong expertise and infrastructure toward synthesis of high-value organic products from biomass. 

Details on the three projects impacted by this new funding:

  • Development of a novel system reducing the radon concentration underground at the Sanford Lab, enabling future experiments in this facility. This project is being led by Dr. Richard Schnee, associate professor in the Department of Physics.
  • Development of two low-background detectors that will provide new capabilities important not only for planned underground physics experiments but also for industrial applications, especially in semiconductor and nuclear security sectors. This project is being led by Dr. Juergen Reichenbacher, assistant professor in the Department of Physics.
  • Selective liquefaction of lignin and biomass wa...
Last Edited 2/3/2017 09:23:18 AM [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 03:09:08 PM [Comments (0)]