Lab seeks new science 2,341 feet below ground

The sign you see when you emerge from the cage at the 27th Level of the Soudan Underground Mine. (Aaron J. Brown)

The sign you see when you emerge from the cage at the 27th Level of the Soudan Underground Mine. (Aaron J. Brown)

The biggest science experiment on the Iron Range ended just a few weeks ago. Workers now dismantle the neutrino detector at the University of Minnesota laboratory at the Soudan Underground Mine while state officials ponder new use for the unusual facility.

This was the topic of a Sunday feature by Jenna Ross in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I wrote about this coming transition in a post last winter.

In a nutshell (and there are few nutshells when talking about neutrinos and dark matter) the 27-year-old underground lab was replaced by more advanced facilities even deeper beneath the earth.

The cutting-edge experiments conducted at Soudan advanced Nobel Prize winning research about neutrinos. Nevertheless, changing times hit scientists every bit as hard as they hit miners.

The Homestake Mine in South Dakota now receives some of the neutrino-hunting action, and a newer facility in Ash River, near International Falls, also draws some of Soudan’s past work.

Now that the U of M’s main Soudan science project ended in late June, staff and interns are unplugging equipment. They’ll salvage whatever they can fit up the small cage that draws people to and from the surface half a mile above.

Perhaps some new purpose can be divined for the underground laboratory. According to Ross’s story, DNR officials are exploring options. A handful of small experiments remain in the lab, but most of the space will now go unused.

Among the ideas bandied about are using the underground space to store massive server banks for tech firms, or even repurposing it as a business incubator.

Hear that entrepreneurs? Tired of bland suburban architecture, beige drywall, and the course walls of cubicles? Why not try an underground lair? Impress clients with a ride down a mine shaft using a lift built in 1924.

OK, so, it might not be for everyone. But it’s certainly for someone.


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