(AP) - The National Science Foundation has chosen South Dakota's closed Homestake Gold Mine to house a federally funded underground physics lab, a project that could bring millions of dollars to the state.
The state won the project, called the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory, over three other states that were also bidding for the lab. The project is designed to study the history and makeup of the universe.
In a release, the agency said Homestake offers the greatest potential for developing the lab. Tony Chan, assistant director for the agency's Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, said the closed mine is a "unique, world-leading facility."
The lab at Lead, S.D., in the northern Black Hills would be the largest and deepest facility of its kind in the world, according to the agency.
The state stands to gain about $300 million in federal funding and the potential for millions of dollars more in scientific grants to participating universities.
“There'll be scientists and researchers and technologists coming in from literally throughout the world, to study in this brand new national laboratory right in the Black Hills of South Dakota.”South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds
Gov. Mike Rounds and two of the state's members of Congress praised the announcement after attending the Sioux Falls funeral of a South Dakota soldier killed in Iraq.
"This is an opportunity for South Dakota children to meet and participate and to learn with some of the greatest minds throughout the world," Rounds said. "There'll be scientists and researchers and technologists coming in from literally throughout the world to come and to study in this brand new national laboratory right in the Black Hills of South Dakota."
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., joined Rounds on a flight to Lead. They vowed to secure the funding now that a site has been chosen.
"That mine for 125 years was a gold mine and when it shut down, it was a tremendous economic hit to the Black Hills and the entire state. This is like the gold strike of the 21st century," Thune said.
Herseth said she spoke by phone Tuesday to Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., who's recovering from a brain hemorrhage.
"He's as excited as we are," she said. "We're committed -- just as we did in saving Ellsworth Air Force Base -- and working together to secure the necessary resources now to make sure the (lab) goes forward in a timely way."
The team developing the project is expected to receive up to $5 million a year for three years to continue developing a plan for the lab. Construction is scheduled to start in fiscal year 2010, depending on funding from Congress.
The state touted Homestake's depth, its existing miles of tunnels and shafts, and immediate availability as reasons to put the lab there.
Mining stopped at Homestake seven years ago.
The benefit of a deep underground lab is the absence of cosmic rays that can interfere with experiments.
Homestake and a mine in Colorado were chosen in 2005 as finalists for the lab.
The NSF reopened the competition in 2006 after the University of Washington complained it's proposal was unfairly eliminated. The foundation later accepted proposals from Washington and Minnesota.
The other locations are the Henderson Mine, a working molybdenum operation near Empire, Colo.; the closed Sudan Iron Mine near Sudan, Minn.; and Pioneer Tunnel near Scenic, Wash.
The Colorado and South Dakota teams already have received $500,000 each to prepare a conceptual design. Sen. Johnson also obtained $10 million from the federal government in 2001 to maintain the mine in preparation for the project.
The lab would conduct research in physics, astrophysics, earth science and geomicrobiology, studying particles from the sun, the formation of minerals and hydrology inside the Earth and microbial life deep underground.
Physicists want to go deep underground to conduct experiments to increase their understanding of the universe's composition, its beginning and its future. More than a mile of rock would filter out many of the cosmic rays.
"The reason for going underground is the same reason why astronomers look at stars at night," said Ken Lande, a University of Pennsylvania physicist who manages a small existing underground lab at Homestake.
Scientists also want to study dark matter, which has gravitational force but is not visible. Other experiments would study whether protons decay, which the NSF has said would provide evidence that all the fundamental forces are united at some very high energy.
In addition to the scientific research expected out of the lab, South Dakota stands to gain about $300 million in federal funding and the potential for millions of dollars more in scientific grants to the participating universities.
No official cost estimates or staffing levels have been mentioned yet for the national lab.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)