Sanford Lab dedicates M. Michael Rounds Operations Center

Former S.D. Gov. Dennis Daugaard, S.D., left, Science and Technology Authority board member Pat Lebrun, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Senior Scientist Kevin Lesko, SDSTA board chairman Casey Peterson, Sen. Mike Rounds, Sanford Lab Executive Director Mike Headley, and S.D. Lieutenant Gov. Larry Rhoden cut the ribbon for the newly dedicated M. Michael Rounds Operations Center, the “ROC.” Pioneer photo by Wendy Pitlick

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LEAD — “Welcome to the ROC!”

That’s how Sanford Lab Executive Director Mike Headley opened the dedication ceremony for the M. Michael Rounds Operations Center on Friday. The event marked the first day of full operations in the 26,000 square foot facility that will provide 10,000 square feet of engineering and staff offices, an 8,000 square foot machine shop, and 8,000 square feet of warehouse space, complete with rail lines for hauling equipment for the facility and its related science experiments.

The building was funded with a $6.5 million commitment from the state of South Dakota.

During dedication ceremonies, dignitaries from across the country and the state took time to reminisce about the early days of dreaming about underground science in Lead, and a time to celebrate the achievements of the scientific community working with local, state and federal officials to convert the Homestake Gold Mine into the Sanford Underground Research Facility. The dedication event was an opportunity to honor Sen. Mike Rounds, who during his tenure as governor of South Dakota worked with volunteers, federal officials, philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, the state legislature, and members of the international scientific community to make the lab a reality.

During opening remarks, Headley made sure to also recognize other dignitaries in attendance, such as Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr. Kevin Lesko, S.D. Science and Technology Authority Chairman Casey Peterson, Sanford Lab Executive Director Mike Headley, and Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden. All made remarks that celebrated the future of the lab and stressed its importance for future discovery, education, and economic impact on the state of South Dakota.  Other officials from state government and national science facilities, including former Gov. Dennis Daugaard, S.D. Science and Technology Authority original board member Pat Lebrun, representatives from Fermilab, and other science collaborations around the country who do work at the Sanford Lab, joined with representatives from the Lead community and lab staff to celebrate the milestone.

Lesko, who spearheaded the effort from the scientific community to make the Sanford Lab a reality and who shepherded the project from its early days back in 2001, recalled the day when he visited the gold mine in 2001, and then went to the governor’s office to make his request.

“The thing that impressed me was that at one legislative session, when all of the scientists were talking about how great the science is and how easy it was going to be, and the agency will fund this, just like that … I said no, it’s not going to be that easy,” Lesko said. “So I went to (Rounds’) office with my long hair and I said ‘governor, this is not going to be easy. I’m sorry that I was right, that it wasn’t easy. We did get there. But that made me sure that this was the right place to house this international facility for underground science. Getting to this point really required dedication, commitment and faith that this was the right thing to do.”

During his remarks, Rounds recalled the long road that lead to the development of the Sanford Lab, from the early days of convincing the S.D. Legislature to appropriate a total of $39 million to the facility, to Sanford’s $70 million commitment that secured the project. He recalled forming the S.D. Science and Technology Authority board, whose original funding source was the $26,000 provided to move offices from Rapid City to Lead, and whose volunteer board members were instrumental in helping to secure the land transfer agreement from Barrick Gold to the state of South Dakota. He also recalled working with early scientist, the late Dr. Alfred Mann, who threatened to handcuff himself to the gate of the Homestake Gold Mine when Barrick Gold threatened to turn off the water pumps underground.

Additionally, Rounds recognized other past governors of South Dakota Bill Janklow, Dennis Daugaard, and current Gov. Kristi Noem, for their dedication to the lab and its impact on education and development within the state. It has been truly awesome, he said, to watch the leadership in the state over the years work with the scientific community and the federal government to make the dream of building the lab and fostering underground science a reality.

“South Dakota is a land where dreams do come true,” he said.

During his remarks, Headley reported that in addition to housing large experiments such as the LZ dark matter detector, the Sanford Lab has made great strides toward building the Long Baseline Neutrino Facility that will house the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment at the 4,850 level. Led by Fermilab through the Department of Energy, the DUNE will be the largest science experiment ever attempted on U.S. soil, Headley said. He reported that the DUNE collaboration includes 1,300 scientists from 204 institutions around the world, with 60 percent of those coming from outside of the U.S., from 33 countries. The dedication of the ROC, he said, marked the first full day of operations in the new facility that would help bring that dream into the future.

Overall, Rounds said he is very excited for the bright future at the lab and the many scientific discoveries that will come.

“We know that there is not much gold left in the Homestake Mine, but there are still some Nobel Prizes down there. They are for us to find, for the scientists to share, and it’s something that we look forward to celebrating when those are announced,” said Sen. Mike Rounds during his remarks during the dedication ceremony of the M. Michael Rounds Operations Center at the Sanford Lab.

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