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Scientific Gold Mine or Dicey Money Pit?

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Science  12 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6006, pp. 904-906
DOI: 10.1126/science.330.6006.904

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Summary

Particle physicists want to convert the Homestake mine in the Black Hills of South Dakota into the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), the largest underground lab in the world. In it they would seek the elusive "dark matter" whose gravity binds the galaxies, a type of radioactivity that would blur the line between matter and antimatter, and protons falling apart as predicted by some particle theories. Advocates say the $875 million project is too good an opportunity to pass up. But DUSEL is not a typical project for the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which historically builds scientific instruments such as telescopes. Instead, DUSEL is mostly an infrastructure project to provide lab space for a host of experiments in a variety of disciplines. Moreover, the biggest experiment in it would be a gargantuan particle detector funded primarily by the Department of Energy (DOE), not NSF. The project must win approval from the National Science Board, which sets policy for NSF, and observers say that board members will want good answers to three important questions before they sign off on the project. How would DUSEL stack up against other underground labs around the world? How will NSF and DOE coordinate efforts to ensure the project stays on track? And will DUSEL yield enough science to justify the investment?