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We are made from stars Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Pitlick   
Thursday, 26 July 2012 10:58

DIANA seeks to study nuclear reactions in stars that produce the natural elements


By Wendy Pitlick

Black Hills Pioneer

LEAD — Stars are the factories of natural elements, including those atoms which make up between 30 to 40 percent of our bodies. Only hydrogen, as part of water, has originated within the first minute of the Big Bang.  

Dr. Michael Wiescher, principal investigator for the Dual Ion Accelerator for Nuclear Astrophysics (DIANA) experiment, along with other researchers within the DIANA collaboration, want to better understand the processes stars go through in order to form these elements, using an ultra-sensitive accelerator at the Sanford Lab. If approved for final National Science Foundation funding, the accelerator at 4,850 feet underground will simulate nuclear reactions that take place within stars, as well as study the origin of the observed abundance of different elements through the course of those reactions. 

The chemical evolution of the universe, Wiescher said, starts with hydrogen and helium. Already in the first generation of stars, 400 million years after the Big Bang nuclear reactions, heavier chemical elements such as helium, carbon, neon, oxygen, silicon, iron and nickel have formed. But these natural reactions take up to billions of years, depending on the mass of stars. Wiescher's accelerators will be a unique instrument — only rivaled by a similar system being developed in the Gran Sasso Tunnel in Italy — in the world that are designed to speed up those reactions in order to quantify them and study them more closely. 

“There have been many star generations since the beginning of time (Big Bang); in all these star generations nuclear reactions have been taken place,” Wiescher said. “Of all the elements in your body, for example, about 50 percent are made in stars. That means your atoms in your body have survived 50 to 100 different star generations, have been formed in stars, changed in supernovae explosions, and have been part of interstellar gases before settling on Earth. That is what I am researching.” 

Making a difference Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Pitlick   
Friday, 20 July 2012 10:11

Gantos focuses on safety at the Lab


By Wendy Pitlick

Black Hills Pioneer

LEAD — From his office at the Sanford Lab, newly hired Environment, Health and Safety Officer Joe Gantos points to a plaque hanging next to his doorway. The plaque, made of the Cedars of Lebanon, also known as the “Cedars of God,” holds special meaning for Gantos, and is given prime placement among other pictures and framed documents on the walls. 

Gantos, who was born in Lebanon, is a member of the famous Maronites — an eastern Catholic church principally located in Lebanon, which follows the teachings of former Syrian monk St. Maron. Gantos brought his deep-seeded faith with him, and received the plaque for work he did to help establish a Maronite church at his former residence in Columbus, Ohio. 

Gantos' mission stories are some of many that he can tell, as the man who currently calls Denver, Colo., home has worn many hats. He has been a marathoner, has been the manager for decontamination and decommissioning for Battelle Memorial Institute, a job which had him working specifically on decommissioning the atomic bomb and other nuclear devices, and has been the executive director of Environment, Health, Safety, Security & Quality for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Denver. 

Sanford Lab education impact spans multiple ages, levels Print E-mail
Written by Wendy Pitlick   
Tuesday, 03 July 2012 13:10

By Wendy Pitlick

Black Hills Pioneer

LEAD — Having a world-class underground science laboratory in his hometown has opened doors Adam Caldwell never even dreamed of. 

A 2010 Lead-Deadwood High School graduate, Caldwell first started paying serious attention to the lab when he was a senior in high school and he helped Sanford Lab Deputy Director of Education and Outreach Peggy Norris build a cosmic ray detector for his senior project. The summer after he graduated, Caldwell went on to take advantage of the Davis-Bahcall Scholarship, and study science at Fermilab, which is well known for its research in long baseline neutrinos. 

Since then, the lab has opened many doors of science for this junior chemistry and chemical engineering major at the S.D. School of Mines and Technology. In 2011, Caldwell worked as an intern in the science department at the Sanford Lab. Now, Caldwell is actively working with the MAJORANA collaboration with a chemistry professor from the S.D. School of Mines and Technology, and he is preparing to help set the neutrinoless double beta decay experiment up in the Davis Cavern underground. Caldwell said he works in the copper electroforming department underground, and he helps maintain all of the equipment in the lab. 

“Working at the lab has made me want to do research for a living,” Caldwell said. “Originally I was just studying chemical engineering, but after being at the lab so long I've added chemistry. It's more science-oriented. All of my experience is at the lab. If it were not so close to where I grew up or am going to school now, I don't even know where I would be. The opportunities that have been opened to me have really changed my life.” 

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