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Underground Lab Could Unlock Gold Mine of Discoveries--If Funds Pull Through

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Before it closed in 2002, the Homestake Mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota was the largest and deepest mine in the United States, yielding more than $1 billion in gold. Now it is being transformed into a Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL). It is hoped the lab will reveal the mysteries of the universe to those who contemplate the power of subatomic particles, dark matter and similar phenomena, reported the Native American Times.

Tucked 8,000 feet down in Lead, South Dakota, DUSEL will provide opportunities to study the fundamentals of science: particle physics, nuclear physics and astrophysics. But the cavernous lab will serve many other functions, states DUSEL’s website: biologists can study life in extreme environments, and geologists can observe the structure of the Earth’s crust. The lab’s education programs will also give students, including American Indian youth, a glimpse below the Earth’s surface, perhaps inspiring them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “We’re giving encouragement for Native American students to access the project for internships and studies in science that is going to allow them to advance their education and occupations,” said DUSEL Cultural and Diversity Coordinator Daryl “KC” Russell, a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe, to Native American Times. “Our tribes’ history and knowledge–and the Native way of knowing–is validated by the science, especially when we’re talking about astrophysics and star people,” Russell told the Native American Times.

While international demand for underground labs is high, space is hard to come by—especially in the U.S., says DUSEL. So a team of scientists and engineers from the University of California at Berkeley, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the National Science Foundation (NSF) spearheaded the lab creation and new phase of exploration. But a funding shortfall may disrupt the plans. Building the lab will require $875 million, reported S­ The National Science Board, which sets NSF policy, denied a request for the expected $15 million in funding for design work. Still, there is hope for fiscal year 2012 if the White House’s request for an increase of $452 million–9 percent over current spending levels to $5.4 billion—by the Department of Energy’s Office of Science, NSF’s partner in the lab, is approved, reported