Economic Development

Mining the Future

For 125 years, miners hauled gold out of the Homestake mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Now that the mine has closed, Governor Mike Rounds thinks Homestake is due for a second gold rush, led by scientists whose work must be performed deep underground.
by | January 2006

For 125 years, miners hauled gold out of the Homestake mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Now that the mine has closed, Governor Mike Rounds thinks Homestake is due for a second gold rush, led by scientists whose work must be performed deep underground.

Rounds wants to build a high-tech laboratory in a chamber 4,850 feet down the mine shaft. Certain scientific inquiries, including some related to nuclear physics, require shielding from cosmic rays that can only be found underground. Suitable labs exist in Italy, Japan and Canada, but there aren't any in the United States. So Rounds persuaded state legislators to put $20 million into the project last fall, matching another $15 million in federal and state funds already committed to it.

The move is aimed at wooing a larger national laboratory--and lots of well-paid Ph.D.s--to South Dakota. The National Science Foundation is considering the Homestake mine and another deep mine in Colorado as potential sites for a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), which would sit 7,400 feet underground. Long-term, DUSEL may become an economic engine in the same way that national labs at Los Alamos and Oak Ridge did in New Mexico and Tennessee. "Our real motivation is to develop this over 10 to 40 years," says Dave Snyder, head of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority. "It's not a quick return on investment."

The NSF isn't expected to make its choice until the end of this year. In the meantime, South Dakota won't begin pouring money down this hole until scientists propose doing work at Homestake.

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