Currently, several South Dakota Mines academic departments are represented in cutting-edge research happening at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead, SD just an hour from campus. Here they collaborate with researchers from across the United States and around the world on experiments involving particle and nuclear physics and other science disciplines.

This site was the location of a Nobel Prize solar neutrino experiment conducted by Dr. Ray Davis over 50 years ago while it was still a gold mine. Today, the mine has been transformed into a state-of-the-art lab that feels more like a building than a mine. The depth and the rock stability make this location ideal for sensitive experiments that need to escape cosmic rays.

All photos by Matthew Kapust, Sanford Underground Research Facility

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Office of Research Affairs

Cabot-Ann Christofferson

As a member of the Office of Research Affairs at South Dakota Mines, Cabot-Ann Christofferson is the liaison for the MAJORANA Project for Oak Ridge National Lab, research happening at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in Lead. The MAJORANA Demonstrator uses natural and enriched germanium crystals to search for neutrino-less double-beta decay. A discovery could determine whether the neutrino is its own antiparticles.

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Chemical and Biological Engineering

Rajesh Sani 

The department’s research group is a multidisciplinary working on diverse areas such as extremophilic bioprocessing, biocatalysis, biomaterials, gas to liquid fuels, genome editing of bacteria, homo/heterologous expression of genes, metabolic engineering, space biology and bioelectrochemical systems. The research has been focusing on extremophiles isolated from the deepest mine (7,800 ft. deep) at Sanford Underground Research Facility to develop unique extremophilic bioprocesses for different applications including production of biofuels, biopolymers and value-added products under thermophilic conditions (≥60◦C) using greenhouse gases and lignocellulosic biomass. The measurable research outcomes include funding ($18M), invention disclosures (5), books (4), book chapters (14), proceedings (1) and peer-reviewed publications (30).



Xinhua Bai, Juergen Reichenbacher, Richard Schnee, David A Martinez Caicedo, and Frank Strieder

Five faculty collaborate on internationally recognized underground physics experiments to increase understanding of particle physics and the universe. The Sanford Underground Research Facility dark matter experiments with South Dakota Mines are LUX and LZ. Researchers have also taken the lead in the development of a novel system reducing the radon concentration underground at the SURF lab, enabling future experiments in the facility. 

Neutrino physics: Neutrino researchers at SD Mines collaborate with SURF on DUNE, an international experiment surrounding the study of neutrinos. DUNE is the world’s flagship neutrino project involving scientists from 27 countries, including physicists from SD Mines.

Nuclear astrophysics: Mines researchers lead an experiment at SURF on nuclear physics in low temperature stellar environments, specifically the flagship experiment Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR). CASPAR is recreating the nuclear fusion processes inside stars.

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Mining Engineering and Industrial Engineering

Lance A. Roberts, Adam Piper

The South Dakota Mines Mining Engineering and Industrial Engineering departments are collaborating on research assessing the potential for musculoskeletal disorders in miners. The research is being conducted at Sanford Underground Research Facility using personnel engaged in activities such as rock bolting, scaling, mucking and jackleg drilling. The project began in August 2017 and will end in April 2019.

The Mining Engineering Department is also exploring the potential of a Mine Health and Safety Laboratory on the 1,700-level of SURF to involve research in mine ventilation, mine rescue, explosives, rock mechanics and ground control and mine communications. There may also be opportunities to test new equipment technologies. The Department continues to have conversations with The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health about this research.

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Geological Engineering

William Roggenthen, Nuri Uzunlar, Sterling Richard, Colton Medler

Two faculty members and two students from the South Dakota Mines Geology and Geological Engineering Department have joined scientists from eight national labs and six universities in a project called Enhanced Geothermal Systems Collaboration (EGS Collab). The EGS Collab received a $9 million grant from the Department of Energy to study geothermal systems, technology that scientists believe could power nearly 100 million American homes. Scientists will collect data to better understand how fractures created in deep, hard rock environments can be utilized to capture geothermal energy.

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Civil Engineering

Christopher Shearer, Nicholas Claggett

In collaboration with Sanford Underground Research Facility, a field site was constructed using shotcrete to stabilize an above-ground rock wall at the former Homestake Gold Mine. Half of the wall was coated with fiber-reinforced shotcrete and the other half was coated with shotcrete reinforced with traditional steel. The wall will continue to be monitored with LIDAR imaging equipment to detect changes in the shotcrete and rock wall surfaces. The goal of the research collaboration between South Dakota School Mines and SURF is to determine the viability of replacing steel with fibers in shotcrete for mining applications.

Live tour of the Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR)

In celebration of 2021 Engineers Week astrophysicist Mark Hanhardt, a Ph.D. candidate at Mines and an experiment support scientist at Sanford Underground Research Facility, leads the live tour of the Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR).

YouTube Video Duration 52:02: Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research (CASPAR)

The Lab

Yates Shaft

The dedicated underground scientific research facility is located in Lead, South Dakota at the former site of the Homestake Gold Mine.


Homestake carved out over 370 miles of shafts, drifts, and ramps. Sanford Lab maintains about 12 miles for science activities.


The Sanford Underground Research Facility supports world-leading research in particle and nuclear physics and other science disciplines.

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Building laboratories deep underground at Sanford Lab created new opportunities for higher education in South Dakota. In 2012, the Board of Regents authorized a Ph.D. physics program at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.