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Profile: The Sandford Underground Research Facility – South Dakota, USA

2 Mins read

The push for testing facilities for the METS businesses that service the Australian mining sector, is something I have discussed previously on this website. With a constant trickle of news coming from OZ Minerals about their proposed Arkani Ngura facility in the upper levels of their Prominent Hill project in South Australia.

There are already several such facilities around the globe and consortia that work together to deliver live, real-time testing for the development of new technologies. There is a however, a facility in the US that I have yet to learn about and in a recent post on LinkedIn I read a fascinating article about an existing underground facility hidden away in South Dakota. The Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF) utilises many thousands of kilometeres of underground working for various testing and research activities.

A cross sectional diagram showing the scale and the two active shafts servicing the SURF underground workings.

Unlike other facilities I have covered before this not only offers mining businesses an opportunity to test their new ideas, but it also offers other sectors an underground test lab! The projects and trials that are underway in the old underground mine allow both science and industry to move forward.

Collaboration instigated the project with Barrick Gold Corp donating the old mine workings, backed up with funding from both the State of South Dakota and from local businessman, T. Denny Sandford. The funding more than USD$100m has allowed for an advanced network of underground facilities for both industrial and scientific testing.

Since inception it has allowed many underground centric projects to take place and now the site even boasts an underground university campus… something Oz Minerals could look to offer in time with a South Australian University?! The infrastructure and facilities look a little beyond the small offering on the outskirts of Kalgoorlie, often used in Western Australia, to familiarise students with underground life!

Some of the science projects underway include:

  • Low Background Counting at BHSU Underground Campus.
  • CASPAR (Compact Accelerator System for Performing Astrophysical Research)
  • The Majorana Demonstrator electroforming laboratory. 

The video below highlights the broad range of projects ongoing at the facility:

“The SDSTA is proud to play a major role in advancing South Dakota’s economy. This study demonstrates that the state’s investments in SURF are paying off,” said Mike Headley, Executive Director of the SDSTA and Lab Director of SURF. Source:

SURF is clearly one of the global leaders, not only in assistance to the mining industry but also the wider landscape, into science and educational research. Which on reflection, contrasts our near non-existent educational support for the underground industry, which as an industry, is only growing in terms of scale and employment locally. Time will tell if Oz Minerals and/or others within the mining sector can deliver something as comprehensive as this for the Australian underground sector and economy.

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