Science enhances education, economy

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June Apaza, top left, Education and Outreach director at SURF, demonstrating an experiment at an outreach event. Photo credit: Matt Kapust, SURF

Excerpted from the article Science enhances education, economy (Deep Thoughts, 24 October 2016)

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, Dr. Ray Davis Jr. operated his solar neutrino experiment on the 4850 Level of Homestake Mine, earning a Nobel Prize in Physics. Today, the Sanford Underground Research Facility (Sanford Lab) houses world-leading physics experiments, as well as other experiments in biology, geology and engineering, nearly a mile underground in the former gold mine—all of which affect the economy as well as education.

“The science of our experiments has been used to enhance STEM education for (Kindergarten through grade 12) schools throughout South Dakota,” said Mike Headley, executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority.

Just over a year ago, Sanford Lab’s Education and Outreach Office—with the help of several teachers—created six curriculum modules and half a dozen assembly presentations. E&O also hosts teacher workshops and dozens of field trips every year.

“These curriculum units help us extend the reach of our education program across the region and put quality science instruction in the hands of K-12 educators… through these efforts, our E&O team is providing role models for students and encouraging them to see themselves as scientists.” Headley said. He noted that more than 10,000 K-12 students have benefited from the different education programs just over the past year.

The science at Sanford Lab also directly contributes to the state’s economy. Since 2003, Sanford Lab has spent more than $164 million in South Dakota and currently funds 163 jobs, 130 of which are employees of the facility.

“That’s directly related to the experiments we host today,” Headley said. “It’s only going to grow with the installation of the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and the LZ (LUX-ZEPLIN) experiment.”

Once LBNF construction is completed and the large liquid argon detectors for DUNE are installed and operational, researchers expect to operate DUNE for more than 20 years, Headley said. According to an economic impact study done for Fermilab, the total economic output related to LBNF/DUNE in South Dakota alone is expected to hit $952 million.