Fermi National Laboratory

Volume 25  |  Friday, July 19, 2002  |  Number 12
In This Issue  |  FermiNews Main Page

Notes from Underground
Minos dedication recognizes legacy of Minnesota miners to today's physics experiments

by Judy Jackson

Neutrinos fly through the earth with the greatest of ease. In the blink of eye, they flit effortlessly through the planet’s rocky crust at nearly the speed of light. Not so for the miners of generations past who dug their way, foot by backbreaking, dangerous foot, through the rock of Minnesota’s Iron Range.

More than 150 scientists, government officials, university staff members and guests gathered to hear Congressman Oberstar’s inspiring speech: This mine was once dedicated to the pursuit of iron ore so pure you could weld two pieces of it together. Now this mine is dedicated to the pursuit of pure knowledge. It was a contrast that emerged vividly in the dedication ceremonies for the MINOS neutrino detector, held July 2, half a mile underground in a cavern of Minnesota’s oldest and deepest iron mine in Soudan, Minnesota. Two Minnesota miners’ sons reminded the audience at the event of the debt neutrino scientists owe to the men who spent their lives in the underground in search of iron ore.

Congressman James Oberstar, who represents Minnesota’s 8th district, home of the MINOS far detector, recalled his father’s 26 years in the mines, where miners spent all day working in “drifts,” or underground tunnels, so cramped the men could not stand up straight.

“It was not always pleasant underground,” Oberstar said in his remarks at the ceremony, “and it was fraught with danger. In the Milford Mine disaster of 1924, thirty-four men lost their lives. My father told me that for a miner the most unforgettable sound was the screams of men from the cage when the cable broke and there was nothing they could do and no place to go. The neutrinos will have an easier trip.”

The image resonated with visitors who had only recently completed their own spine-tingling halfmile journey in Soudan’s “cage,” the historic mine elevator that takes people and equipment from the surface to Level 27, the site of the spacious MINOS cavern.

Some 160 scientists, government officials, university staff members, contractors and guests assembled in the MINOS cavern to dedicate the experiment’s detector, an array of eight-meter octagons of steel and plastic scintillator that will search for interactions of the fundamental particles known as neutrinos. To date, workers have completed the installation of the detector’s first “supermodule,” comprising 248 of the detector’s ultimate 486 layers.

Dedicated on July 4, 1987, the Iron Man Statue serves as a tribute to the iron ore miners of Northeastern Minnesota who contributed a supply of iron ore that helped win two world wars and supported U.S. industrial development. At 81 feet tall and weighing in at 150 tons, the Iron Man Statue is the third largest free-standing statue in the nation.The underground laboratory, which also houses the Soudan 2 nucleon-decay experiment and the Cryogenic Dark Matter Search, is managed by the University of Minnesota.

Oberstar, now serving his fourteenth Congressional term, described to the audience the value miners put on education.

“Theirs was a hard life, to achieve a better life for their children,” Oberstar said. “It was a guiding principle that their own children would receive an education. As I was finishing high school, my father sat me down and said ‘Son, you have two choices. You can go to college or you can go into the mine. And I don’t want any kid of mine working underground.’”

University of Minnesota Regent Anthony Baraga grew up with Oberstar in the mining town of Chisholm, Minnesota. Baraga, also the son of a miner, described his own brief experience underground.

Cover photo:
Let the oscillations begin! The ribbon cutting ceremony was a highlight at the MINOS dedication. Performing the task (from left to right): physicist Earl Peterson, University of Minnesota; Anthony Baraga, Regent of the University of Minnesota; Allen Garber, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Fermilab Director Michael Witherell; Congressman James Oberstar; Stan Wojcicki, Stanford University and spokesperson of the MINOS experiment; and Laura Bautz, National Science Foundation.

“As I came down in the lift today,” Baraga said, “I was reminded of the day when, as a young man, I took another lift deep into a Minnesota iron mine. I spent the day working in the drift, with the other miners. At the end of the day, I took the lift back up. After I showered, my father met me and asked me how it went. I said it went fine. ‘But there’s just one thing,” I told my father. “I am never going back down there again. I don’t care if it means I can’t go to college. I don’t care what it means. I will never work underground again.”

Baraga reminded the audience of the connection between those who dug the deep caverns of Minnesota mines and the physicists who now use those mines for their experiments. Physicists place particle detectors in deep mines in order to use the earth’s crust to shield the detectors from the bombardment of cosmic rays at the earth’s surface, which would create undesirable “noise” in the experiment.

“It is fitting for us to remember the generations of miners who made this possible,” Baraga said.“In a very real sense, we are the heirs of those miners.”

The Soudan Mine closed for mining operations in 1962. Both Oberstar and Baraga welcomed the new use of the mine for physics research.

“This mine was once dedicated to the pursuit of iron ore so pure you could weld two pieces of it together,” Oberstar said. “Now this mine is dedicated to the pursuit of pure knowledge.”

The congressman, whose 26,000-square-mile district, the largest east of the Mississippi, includes many descendants of miners who immigrated to Minnesota from foreign nations, noted the international character of both mine crews and scientific collaborations.

To celebrate the completion of the first MINOS supermodule, collaboration members and honored guests had the opportunity to autograph its final plate, no. 248. Congressman James Oberstar (above) was one of over fifty people who signed their names on this eight-meter octagon made of steel and plastic scintillator. “It is appropriate,” Oberstar said, “that where miners of many nations came to mine the deepest reserves of iron ore, now scientists of many nations come together to pursue the deepest origins of the universe. Miners once thought it was impossible to extract ore from deposits so deep in the earth. And it was once thought impossible to discover the neutrino. It took many years, but we have been able to do it.”

Other speakers at the dedication included Fermilab Director Michael Witherell, Stanford University physicist and MINOS spokesman Stanley Wojcicki, Laura Bautz of the National Science Foundation, and Commissioner Allen Garber of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which administers the Soudan Mine as a Minnesota state park and a National Historic Landmark. Daily tours give visitors a look at both early mining operations and, now, physics experiments.

Commissioner Garber described the Soudan Mine as an extraordinary piece of the past and a reminder of the contributions of the miners in establishing Minnesota as the nation’s leading ore-producing state. He applauded the development of an underground laboratory as a new chapter in Soudan’s history.

“As commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources,” Garber said, “I have attended many state park dedications. I can tell you that I have never attended one more unique than this one.” Cover photo: Let the oscillations begin! The ribbon cutting ceremony was a highlight at the MINOS dedication. Performing the task (from left to right): physicist Earl Peterson, University of Minnesota; Anthony Baraga, Regent of the University of Minnesota; Allen Garber, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; Fermilab Director Michael Witherell; Congressman James Oberstar; Stan Wojcicki, Stanford University and spokesperson of the MINOS experiment; and Laura Bautz, National Science Foundation.


On the Web:
The Soudan Underground Mine State Park
www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/soudan_underground_mine/
The Soudan Underground Laboratory
www.sudan.umn.edu
The NuMI-MINOS Homepage
www-numi.fnal.gov


last modified 7/19/2002   email Fermilab