From gold mine to laboratory

By Danielle Prostrollo

To commemorate the Norwich Science Festival next week, I wanted to very quickly highlight one of America’s lesser-known scientific institutions in my own home state of South Dakota, the Sanford Lab Homestake.

old homestake mine

The Homestake Mine By Detroit Publishing Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The South Dakota gold rush may be less famous than the one in California but its effects continue today. The Homestake Mine was, for many years, the largest continuously running gold mine in America. In total, the mine supplied over 50 million ounces of gold and silver. After its closure in 2001, negotiations to allow a permanent research space began and resulted in the Sanford Lab. The lab is home to a number of experiments from several disciplines but some of the most fascinating (in my opinion) focus on neutrino and dark matter research. These experiments are only possible because of the mine’s incredible depth and size.

The Homestake deposit was discovered in 1876 and bought up for $70,000 (roughly equal to $1.5M in today’s money) the following year by a small group of entrepreneurs (that included George Hearst – newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s father). They clearly knew the investment would pay off, but did they know the mine would become an important site for scientific advancement?

The following diagram illustrates the initial plans for the Homestake Mine and shows the incredible usefulness of the mine toward scientific discovery in many disciplines.

Dusel_diagram

By Zina Deretsky, National Science Foundation (NSF.gov news) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

To learn more about some of the science being studied at the Sanford Lab, South Dakota, or gold mining in America be sure to check out the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library, some suggestions to start out with:

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse Tyson

The Dakotas: A Guide to Unique Places, by Lisa Meyers McClintick

Gold Dust & Gun Smoke: tales of gold rush outlaws, gunfighters, lawmen and vigilantes, by John Boessenecker

 

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Filed under American Culture, American History

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