Science at Sanford Underground Research Facility

October 2, 2015

At the Sanford Underground Research Facility, we pursue unique, world-leading research that can only be done in an underground environment. We work with many institutions and organizations around the globe including the Department of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF), NASA, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).  The research conducted at the lab covers everything from physics and chemistry (dark matter, neutrino oscillation and neutrinoless double-beta decay) to geology and biology (seismic observation, rock strain sensing, astrobiology).

Scientists doing physics research house their experiments underground because of the low radiation environment. The surface of Earth is constantly bombarded with cosmic rays and is awash in a sea of electromagnetic radiation from the sun, cell towers, and other sources. These sources of radiation, which are rarely harmful to humans, can wreak havoc on extremely sensitive experiments deigned to look for the faintest radiation signals imaginable. By working nearly a mile underground, scientists are able to filter out most of this noisy radiation.

The low radiation, lack of sunlight and the presence of extreme heat pressure also make the underground a great place to study rare biological processes and organisms called extremophiles.  Furthermore, the uniquely stable geology of the rock makes it a great place to explore the potential of seismology and its role in understanding gravity waves.

Research takes place on many levels of Sanford Lab, with most of the larger experiments on the 4850-level—which is to say, 4,850 feet below the surface. These include the experiments listed on the map above.
Going deep underground could allow scientists to answer many questions about our universe: How did the universe form? What is dark matter and how does it interact with us? Are neutrinos their own antiparticles? How did the elements necessary for life form in the furnaces of stars?
To explore the various experiments conducted at Sanford Lab or planned for the near future, click on the experiment links on the left.