Tuesday, April 25, 2017

U - Underground SNOLAB


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Sudbury. A city in Northern Ontario so exciting that the top two attractions listed on the tourism website is a 6-screen discount movie theatre and the slots at the local race track. However, this sleepy (and cold) town holds a surprising secret deep below the surface: Two thousand and seventy metres beneath the city lies a sprawling underground laboratory that would be an awesome secret villain lair except that everyone knows about it.

Seriously, you can get a map on their website and everything.

For you non-metric folks out there, two thousand metres (2km) is about one-and-a-quarter miles, or six thousand, eight hundred feet. In solid bedrock.

SNOLAB (the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory) is located in a nickel mine in the cold Canadian north, and is the deepest clean room facility in the world. A clean room is a specialized laboratory with very low levels of dust and background radiation, necessary to perform certain very specialized and highly sensitive physics experiments. Until 2010 it was the deepest laboratory in the world, period, when it was surpassed by the 2.4km deep Jinping Underground Laboratory in China.

This has to be some sort of doomsday weapon, right?

Being located under so much solid rock provides invaluable shielding from the cosmic radiation that regularly bombards our planet but unfortunately doesn't give anyone superpowers. It does screw up physics experiments, though. To illustrate how important this depth is, SNOLAB and Jinpin receive 0.27 and 0.2 particles per square metre of cosmic radiation per day, respectively. This compares to fifteen million particles per square metre on the surface.

Seriously, how does no one develop superpowers? 

Unfortunately, because SNOLAB is located in an active mine, public tours are not available. However, their website offers a plethora of information, images and videos, and they have an extensive outreach program for grade schools. They also offer a workstudy co-op for undergraduate students. It's like they want to share science and education.

At this point I'll mention that the United States was supposed to build an ever deeper lab, but plans were abandoned after budget cuts in 2010. Ahem.

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My A-to-Z Blogging Challenge theme for 2017 is Weird Canadian Facts and History. To see more blog posts, click here.

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