Betting Big on Science: A Cautionary Tale

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Science  13 Jul 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6091, pp. 149-151
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6091.149

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On 30 May, the state of South Dakota opened the Sanford Underground Research Facility (SURF), built with $40 million in state money and $50 million from a philanthropist. SURF has the potential to play an outsized role in particle physics in the United States. And two key experiments are already moving in. But South Dakota officials had built SURF with the intention of pressuring the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to commit to an $875 million national laboratory. Instead, NSF's governing body shot down the idea, leaving its fate up to the U.S. Department of Energy. DOE has requested $10 million next year to run the place—mostly to pump ground water out of the mine and treat it. But it has made no promise of support for 2014 and beyond. So South Dakota's investment could end up, literally, under water.