The World’s Deepest Underground Laboratory

The main motivation behind the completion of DUSEL was the study of extremely rare nuclear physics processes, some of which entail neutrino scattering and dark matter interactions. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

The Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory or DUSEL was supposed to bring forth the world’s deepest underground laboratory and science research facility.

The main motivation behind the completion of DUSEL was the study of extremely rare nuclear physics processes, some of which entail neutrino scattering and dark matter interactions.

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The whole point of establishing a science and research facility at a depth of 8,000 feet underground was to be able to study the beforementioned phenomena without the interference of cosmic rays.

There were a number of proposals in 2005 about how DUSEL was supposed to look, function, and run. One was a deep gold mine in South Dakota, also known as Homestake Mine, which was to be transformed into a state-of-the-art underground physics research facility.

The deepest underground laboratory in the world was to be called DUSEL.
Conceptual diagram for the DUSEL laboratory. (Image: wikimedia / CC0 1.0)

Flooding the deepest underground laboratory

After its shutdown in 2002, the mine was flooded in 2009 to a depth of 4,992 feet. This meant in order to be able to gain access to the DUSEL project level, all the levels above had to be pumped dry.

The initial plan was to also erect an interim laboratory about 142 feet above DUSEL at a depth of 4,850 feet, called the Sanford Underground Laboratory (SURF).

Bye bye DUSEL

As incredible as the DUSEL project was, the project was dropped by the oversight board of the National Science Foundation in late 2010. The project was apparently renounced when DUSEL’s designers asked for more money after spending the US$19 million originally allocated to them.

The world's deepest underground laboratory had to be shut down.
The Large Underground Xenon experiment installed 4,850 feet underground inside a 70,000-gallon water tank shield. (Image: via wikimedia CC BY 3.0)

Hello SURF

Even though DUSEL was denied further development, the Department of Energy came on board in 2011, agreeing to fund ongoing research at SURF.

SURF is operated by the Dakota Science and Technology Authority through the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory.

The 4,850 foot deep SURF, which is situated about 142 feet above DUSEL, is known for running experiments like the Large Underground Xenon experiment (LUX) to research dark matter, and MAJORANA, which hopes to detect a rarely occurring phenomenon known as neutrinoless double beta decay.

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