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Neutrino Day 2019 sets new record in Lead

Nearly 1,700 guests brought their scientific curiosity to this year's Neutrino Day
Cosmic symphony

Every seat in the Historic Homestake Opera House was filled when the lights dimmed for the Neutrino Day finale. Out of the quiet, the symphony’s music slowly built, and the performance began with a seemingly simple question, voiced by a child.

“What are the Northern Lights?”

The question propelled the cinematic story behind the phenomenon of the aurora borealis. Live music, orchestrated to perfectly align with swirling visuals of the Northern Lights, guided the storytelling—all to answer this single question.

This year's Neutrino Day was all about questions. We invited our community members to come curious—to bring their questions to the researchers and employees that make the advancement of scientific inquiry their everyday mission.

“We get all kinds of questions,” said Markus Horn, standing in the sunshine, but getting ready to go a mile underground to video chat from the 4850 Level. “Everything from ‘What is dark matter and how are you going to find it?’ to more detailed questions like ‘How fast will the xenon circulate through the detector?’ We have to be ready to answer anything the best we can.”

With a record-setting number of attendees, our Neutrino Day team welcomed questions from nearly 1,700 guests on topics of particle physics research, extremophiles living underground, the engineering behind deep science and new projects coming to Sanford Lab.

Here are our favorite Neutrino Day highlights.

Cabot-Ann Christofferson on stage

A Case for Curiosity

In her TED-style talk, Majorana Demonstrator researcher Christofferson spoke about the importance of scientific inquiry, challenging the idea that experiments are only successful if researchers find the one thing they were directly attempting to detect.

When asked what her favorite part of the day was, Abbigaile Walter said, "'The Case for Curiosity,' because, I think it's important for kids to always ask questions about everything around them. Cabot-Ann was amazing."

A stage with 2 people, the northern light playing on screen and chamber orchestra.

The Legend of the Northern Lights

At this year’s Neutrino Day finale, astronomer José Francisco Salgado collaborated with the Black Hills Symphony Orchestra to present “The Legend of the Northern Lights,” a film that combined visual imagery and music to tell the story behind one culture’s understanding of this magnificent phenomenon.

“With these performances, we want to inspire young minds to follow careers in the disciplines we combine—photography, filmmaking, design, music and science,” Salgado said.

With stunning imagery, live music, actors and storytelling, this cosmic symphony did just that.

1700 people attended Neutrino Day 2019, making it the largest Neutrino Day to date.

600 people attended the Neutrino Day Finale

Kid dressed up in a NASA space suit looking at Science Steve.

Science Steve

Science Steve once again wowed his audience with wild science demonstrations, showing just how interactive science Q&A can be.

Activities at the All-in-One Events Center.

Science for all ages

At the All-in-One Events Center, kids explored the tangible side of science with hands-on activities exploring questions including, “How do organisms survive in the deepest, darkest places on earth?”

“Our visitors get to see a few familiar things and a few not-so-familiar things today,” said Raeann Mettler, biology instructor at Black Hills State University (BHSU). Her table featured microscopes with swimming creatures from surface ponds and squirming organisms collected from the underground. “Kids can look through these lenses and see the same organisms we are studying each day.”

Pete Girtz in a crossing guard get up.

250 volunteers

From greeters to crossing guards, to activity planners, to presenters, Neutrino Day isn't possible without an army of volunteers.

“I love seeing the community come out and get excited about what we are doing here,” shared Fermi National Laboratory’s Josh Willhite. “It reinvigorates me and reminds me of how cool our work really is.”

Our volunteers—from staff scientists and geologists to infrastructure technicians and administration professionals—fielded questions about our unique work environment, all while helping people get the most out of Neutrino Day.

“Neutrino Day is an opportunity to give back to the public who support us year-round, and I’m glad to be a part of it,” Larry Jaudon, director of Environment, Safety and Health Department.

ERT demonstration

ERT demonstration

At the Emergency Rescue Team’s demonstration, visitors learned about the lengths our facility takes to make sure our work and employees are safe.

“There’s been a lot of people coming by with great questions,” said Trevor Mutchler, an intern at Sanford Lab who is studying Mine Rescue at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SD Mines). “Our equipment is unique. So far, they’ve been quite interested in our breathing units. We have some antique apparatus on display, as well as the newer units. They’ve been interested in how the technology has developed over time.”

David Vardiman


With expertise in the Black Hills rock formations, David Vardiman, geotechnical project engineer at Sanford Lab, answered questions about the area’s mining history and its potential for future excavation.

A room full of people watching a video conference.

Video conferneces

Our live video chats with researchers—both on the 4850 Level of Sanford Lab and with CERN's CMS dark matter detector in Switzerland—were packed with community members, ready to ask questions about these world-leading experiments. 

LZ researcher talks with Neutrino Day guest

Science displays

At the science displays, guests get to ask researchers questions about the experiments taking place at Sanford Lab, and researchers get to explain why they are so passionate about these experiments.

“I really love what I do,” said Nicolas, “By talking about it, I can share that enthusiasm and I can show people that science isn’t boring—science is really beautiful and what we are looking at and trying to find is a really cool thing. A lot of people can’t get past the idea that science is very strict and by-the-book, but what we are doing here is ground-breaking and I want to share that with everyone.”

Neutrino Detector 5000

Neutrino Detector 5000

Inside the Neutrino Detector 5000, visitors got to illuminate their invisible ink stamps, each representing a different flavor of neutrinos. 

"All day long kids were ducking into this life-size detector," said Erin Broberg, communications specialist at Sanford Lab. "They loved the way the invisible ink lit up when they stepped inside. I can't think of a better analogy to how excited researchers are when a long-awaited signal lights up their detector."