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Dr. Kara Keeter and Kristal Runningwollf

Dr. Kara Keeter and Kristal Running Wolf are among several BHSU faculty and students who are actively involved in research at Sanford Lab at Homestake. BHSU’s proximity to the Sanford Laboratory at Homestake combined with a high level of interest among faculty and staff has created numerous collaborative projects not only in science but also in science education and across the disciplines.

Learn more about the Sanford Lab projects

Black Hills State University’s proximity to the Sanford Laboratory at Homestake combined with a high level of interest among faculty and staff has created numerous collaborative projects not only in science but also in science education and across the disciplines. Students at BHSU have already had the opportunity to participate in ground-breaking research and are poised to maximize future opportunities as they emerge.

“Our faculty and students have been proactive about getting involved in activities at Sanford. Black Hills State University is known for transforming the lives of students. Sanford Laboratory has the potential to transform not only BHSU, but also the Black Hills region and the entire state,” BHSU President Kay Schallenkamp says. “What was once a gold mine is now a mine for knowledge with implications that will reach around the world.”

BHSU is celebrating the nationally designated Year of Science and sees the activity at Sanford Lab as another way to create innovative educational opportunities for students. BHSU recently broke ground for a new science building on campus that will provide classroom and laboratory space to accommodate our rapidly increasing number of science students and make lab space available for visiting researchers.

Enthusiasm about Sanford Lab extends throughout the BHSU campus. Students and faculty from a wide range of disciplines are involved in initiatives related to Sanford Lab. As plans for the lab move forward, the BHSU/Sanford activity is developing in:

  • Science research in the fields of microbiology, physics and other areas;
  • Science education including the development of a world-class Sanford Center for Science Education; and
  • Myriad other initiatives ranging from mass communications to business to history.

Science research at Sanford
Black Hills State University science students have the unique opportunity to participate in research in physics, biology, and other fields. As water has been pumped out of the mine, BHSU students are helping to explore microbial diversity with  Dr. Cynthia Anderson, the associate director of BHSU’s Western South Dakota DNA Core Facility and Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (WestCore/CCBR), Dr. David Bergmann, assistant professor at BHSU and Dr. Sookie Bang, professor at SDSM&T.  This research project included genetic analyses and bioprospecting that could lead to discoveries for new antibiotics, new enzymes useful in the production of biofuels, or perhaps even metabolites that can be used in environmental remediation projects.

Located on the BHSU campus, WestCore is funded through the SD-BRIN program and provides DNA services to researchers and organizations regionally.  CCBR is recognized nationally for its genetics and genomics work. The WestCore/CCBR lab at BHSU is fully equipped for molecular genetic research techniques, including sophisticated manipulations like DNA sequencing and genotyping, Real-time PCR, and microarray analysis. These capabilities will be useful as microbiology research at Sanford Lab advances.

BHSU faculty and students are also involved in physics research. BHSU is establishing a nuclear and particle astrophysics program that studies the very smallest particles in the universe in order to understand stars, supernovae, and even galaxies. According to Dr. Kara Keeter, assistant professor of physics, these internationally-recognized experiments have the potential to change the basic Standard Model of Particle Physics and to forever enhance our understanding of the universe. Two BHSU students, Peter Lemke and Kristal Running Wolf, are actively involved in Sanford Lab research this summer. They are working with faculty to conduct radon measurements, magnetic field measurements, and are helping design the optics for a cavity ring spectrometer.

BHSU faculty and students are involved in several major international collaborations in physics experiments that are being prepared for Sanford Lab including an international dark matter experiment known as DARKSIDE and an international neutrino experiment known as MAJORANA.  These experiments, which study the absolute fundamentals of what the universe is comprised of, have far-reaching implications. 

The state of South Dakota has established a 2010 Research Center, known as CUBED (Center for Ultra-low Background Experiments at DUSEL ) which will provide additional research opportunities in physical science. This is one of seven 2010 Research Centers established under the direction of Gov. Mike Rounds. The CUBED center, which also includes faculty members from other S.D. state universities, will develop a critical mass of expertise necessary for the state to fully participate in large-scale projects at the underground lab. In addition to Keeter, Dr. Dan Durben, physics professor, and Dr. Mike Zehfus, chemistry professor, are involved with this work.

These projects, as impressive as they are, are only the initial research projects. BHSU has seven additional projects in the planning stages that are awaiting funding decisions from the National Science Foundation.

“I believe this research will open the door for many future projects,” Dr. Shane Sarver, director of research at BHSU, says. “We are currently developing research ideas and will continue to submit proposals.”

Science education
Utilizing the Sanford Lab as an impetus to teach others about science is a natural connection for Black Hills State University, which is already recognized as a leader in math and science education. BHSU will combine its premier teacher preparation program with cutting-edge research at Sanford Lab to create an atmosphere rich with possibilities to identify and refine new ways to teach math and science. University students working to earn their teaching degrees will have the opportunity to work with scientists at Sanford Lab and collaborate on educational initiatives at the science education center.

BHSU is taking the lead in development of the Sanford Center for Science Education, which will include hands-on science activities for visitors and tourists, classrooms for visiting high school and university groups, and way to view underground science in action. Dr. Ben Sayler, who is leading the planning efforts for the science education center, notes that the center may also include an exhibit hall, interpretative nature trails, an auditorium, and a satellite education facility at an underground portal. The Sanford Center for Science Education, due to its uniqueness, will draw visitors from around the world and offer educational activities for audiences of all ages.

BHSU’s proximity to Sanford Lab and its faculty members’ involvement in experiments led to BHSU being designated as a QuarkNet site. BHSU is now part of a national outreach program for high school science teachers. BHSU has begun participation this summer and in three years will have 12 high school teachers doing research at the Sanford Lab. According to Keeter, a science faculty member at BHSU who has been actively involved with QuarkNet at other university sites, the program helps develop America’s technical workforce by getting students and teachers excited about science and involved in classroom science investigations. The program brings scientists and teachers together to work on experiments. BHSU joins other prestigious universities, including Notre Dame, John Hopkins, Purdue, and Boston University, as a QuarkNet site. BHSU is the only designated QuarkNet site in an eight-state region.

Other BHSU initiatives at Sanford involving students from a variety of disciplines

  • College of Business - collaboration on science education center preliminary business plan, including tourism and marketing components
  • History – connection to Homestake Adams Research and Cultural Center which will house artifacts from Homestake Mine which are invaluable to architects and engineers as the lab is being developed
  • Center for American Indian Studies – Dr. John Glover, who serves on DUSEL's Cultural Advisory Committee, conducted a study (with Dr. Cheryl Anagnopoulos) to gauge attitudes within American Indian communities about the development of DUSEL
  • College of Education – curriculum development/distance learning, research on teaching and learning, experience for pre-service teachers
  • College of Education – exploring the possibility of creating outdoor education/interpretation exhibits
  • Mass Communications – science photography exhibit
  • Network and Computer Services – students to assist in maintaining the information and technology infrastructure

As Sanford Lab continues to develop, faculty and staff at BHSU envision that the opportunities for collaboration at Sanford lab will continue to increase. Sanford Lab has already caught the attention of professors and students from around the world, and many have expressed their interest in BHSU so they can be a part of this exciting endeavor.

This world-class science laboratory just minutes from the BHSU campus provides unique opportunity for national and international interactions and recognition, student research and internship opportunities, enhanced faculty and student recruitment, increased research productivity, and additional science teacher training.