SURF - a unique opportunity
The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) in Lead, South Dakota has created unique opportunities for Black Hills State University. New research opportunities have emerged for BHSU faculty and students. BHSU faculty have initiated research projects in Physics and Biology. 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.”
Located on the BHSU campus, Western South Dakota DNA Core Facility (WestCore) is funded through the SD-BRIN program and provides DNA services to researchers and organizations regionally. Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (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 Underground Research Facility advances. A new science building is scheduled for completion in December, 2010 will provide modern new facilities for conducting research.
Research Projects at SURF
- Metagenomic Analysis of Drainage and Service Water
The drainage and service water in the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) site in the former Homestake mine represents a unique interface between deep subsurface rock and aquifer environments, which are anoxic, lack dissolved organic matter, and exist at high temperatures, and surface water and air introduced by former mining activities
- International Collaborations
BHSU faculty and students are involved in several major international collaborations in physics experiments that are being prepared for Sanford Underground Research Facility 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.
- Physics research
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 SURF 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.
The state of South Dakota has established a 2010 Research Center, known as CUBED (Center for Ultra-low Background Experiments at SURF ) 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.
- Geomicrobiology genetic and genomic research
Extending to more than 2.4 kilometers (8000 feet) below the surface of the earth, the Sanford Underground Research Facility offers a unique opportunity to explore microbial life in Earth’s deep terrestrial ecosystems. Within this venue questions can be addressed pertaining to how life persists, thrives, and evolves. It is also here that the limits of life can be ascertained.
Studies of the deep terrestrial subsurface environment will help us to understand the Earth’s primordial microbial ecosystems, provide new understanding that will lead us in the quest to find subsurface life on other worlds, and lead to discoveries such as novel metabolic products with potential use in industrial, pharmaceutical, or environmental applications. Under the mentorship of BHSU Biology faculty, Dr. Cynthia Anderson, Assistant Professor and the Associate Director of BHSU’s Western South Dakota DNA Core Facility and Center for the Conservation of Biological Resources (WestCore/CCBR), and Dr. David Bergmann, Professor at BHSU, undergraduate and graduate students are participating in the exploration of the deep subsurface ecosystems.
Their quest includes using a metagenomic approach to assess the microbial and metabolic diversity found within fracture fluids, and biofilms. The BHSU microbial genetics team is participating in a larger, multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional collaborative group seeking to address those very topics. This collaborative team includes scientists from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, Princeton University, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, and the Department of Energy’s Joint Genome Institute.