Neutrino Day sheds light on dark matter

LUX dark matter experiment lead researcher Dr. Richard Gaitskell presented “Dark Matter at the Sanford Lab,” which focused on dark matter and the LUX experiment, at the Historic Homestake Opera House as part of the Sanford Lab’s sixth annual Neutrino Day event held in Lead Saturday.

Pioneer photo by Adam Hurlburt

LEAD — The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) held it’s sixth annual Neutrino Day event Saturday in Lead. Events were held at SURF facilities, the historic Homestake Opera House, the Black Hills Mining Museum, the Lead Arts Council and the Lead Visitors Center. People from all over the region attended the event, which featured children’s activities, presentations by SURF scientists and visitors, live videoconferencing with SURF scientists underground, scientific photo and art exhibitions, tours of the Yates Shaft hoist room and more.

“What we have here is a world class laboratory, I think we want to make sure that everybody in South Dakota is well aware of just how far we’ve come in the last few years,” said LUX dark matter experiment lead researcher Dr. Richard Gaitskell. “As we were discussing during my presentation, you look at the photographs from just two years ago and we had a husk — we had done excavation, but the laboratory hadn’t been outfitted — and today we’re now running an experiment that is the best in the world, the most sensitive experiment for dark matter detection. “... This year, we expect to be able to announce a new set of results from this experiment, you know, looking for dark matter at a level of sensitivity that nobody else in the world has been able to do.”

This cutting edge, “best in the world” science drew people from all over the region to Lead for Neutrino Day, including Justin Duffield, Ian Curtis and Zack Truelson, all theatre students from Augustana College in Sioux Falls who are interested in theoretical physics.

“How could you not be (interested in the science going on at the Sanford Lab)?” asked Duffield. “And it’s going on right here. With something this incredible going on around here, how could you not want to learn more? Each year this is getting bigger and bigger, that’s so inspirational.”

Neutrino Day featured four separate science talks throughout the day. South Dakota School of Mines biologist Rajesh Sani presented “Biofuels and Deep Life,” which focused on the possibility of organisms underground at the Sanford Lab producing fuel. South Dakota state epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger presented “Something to Sneeze About,” which focused on hot topics in modern health-science. Gaitskell presented “Dark Matter at the Sanford Lab,” which focused on dark matter and the LUX experiment. And Emmy-nominated research astronomer with Chicago’s Adler Planetarium José Francisco Salgado presented “Science through Art and Music,” focusing on his multi-media work combining still photos and videos of scientific activities around the world (and in space) with music for shows in planetariums and other venues. Salgado recently filmed fish-eye video of the Sanford Lab and LUX experiment for an upcoming planetarium show that he said will be widely distributed.

“What I do is I combine all these things that I’m passionate about, like photography and film and astronomy and I make these multi-media works whose intention is to get people interested in learning about what they see,” said Salgado.

Much of Salgado’s work focuses on space exploration, whether through observatories on the ground, satellite cameras, or NASA projects. Filming LUX was one of the first times the astronomer pointed his lens at science on the theoretical – and much, much smaller – end of the spectrum.

“I’m still working in the macro realm, but yes it’s the first time that I document something that is actually capturing something that’s very small,” said Salgado. “There’s so much more to explore. But the idea is to show all these visuals and inspire people to learn about what they see. So, the more I can cover the better.”

Dr. Kevin Lesko, principal investigator at the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) said the Neutrino Day event is important because it gives scientists at the Sanford Lab and the public an opportunity to meet and interact with one another.

“I think it’s a way for the public to understand the human side of the science. It’s really easy for the general public to not be exposed to cutting edge science,” said Lesko. “This is a great opportunity to bring together the general public and the scientists, and it’s a great opportunity for the public to learn about what we’re doing, ask questions and interact.”

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