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South Dakota Mines joins major nationwide neutrino experiment

South Dakota School of Mines & Technology

What do Stanford, MIT, and South Dakota Mines all have in common? They’re all members of the Universities Research Association.

Joining dozens of institutions from across the nation in the Universities Research Association, from public research schools like the University of Nebraska or University of Michigan to private Ivy League schools like Yale, Mines is the latest piece of this network.

Mines physics professor Richard Schnee said it’s a chance for students and faculty to connect with major labs around America.

“One of the big advantages is the opportunities to get funding to be able to travel to the FermiLab or to the Sandia National Lab and perform research at the facilities there and with the scientists at those labs and also researchers from across the country," Schnee said. "They’re a group of very high-profile researching universities.”

Being a member of this group, Schnee said Mines is now playing a role in the largest single experiment on American soil.

“There are over 1,000 scientists working on this experiment," Schnee said. "The DUNE experiment is being operated by FermiLab. It is really the biggest aspect that FermiLab is putting forward.”

DUNE, or the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment, is challenging that team of researchers to question the very fabric of our universe.

“Neutrinos are elementary particles that are probably the most mysterious of the elementary particles that we know about," Schnee said. "We know they have masses, but we don’t know what their mass is, and we theoretically don’t really understand how they get their mass. The way they change could be related to why there’s matter and not anti-matter in the universe, which is important for why we’re here at all. That’s one of the key mysteries we’re trying to understand.”

The work of Mines researchers will be done at the Sanford Underground Research Facility in the Black Hills.

C.J. Keene is a Rapid City-based journalist covering the legal system, education, and culture