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Group overseeing Sanford Lab getting new leader

LEAD (AP) -- A new leader has been named for the group that oversees an underground laboratory in western South Dakota where scientists are conducting complex experiments.

Mike Headley on July 1 is replacing Ron Wheeler as executive director of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, which operates the Sanford Underground Research Facility near Lead with support from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California and the federal Energy Department.

Wheeler is moving into the role of director of governmental and external affairs.

"I'll help maintain our strong relationships with federal agencies, Congress, universities and the state of South Dakota," he said.

Headley has been serving as laboratory director, a position he will maintain while also leading the authority.

"I'm honored that Ron Wheeler and the board of directors have entrusted me with this responsibility," Headley said. "We have a great team at the Sanford Lab. Under Ron's leadership, we have successfully transformed the Homestake gold mine into the deepest underground laboratory in the U.S. And our future looks even more exciting."

The lab is nearly a mile underground. Scientists are conducting research on such subjects as nuclear reactions within stars and dark matter, an elusive substance that scientists believe makes up about a quarter of the universe. Conducting the sensitive experiments underground shields them from disruptive cosmic radiation.