Amazing what lurks below the ground…
Underground laboratories are the main infrastructure for astroparticle physics. In a sense this discipline was born there. But also for the future these infrastructures will be of capital importance as many experiments need to be performed underground. Underground laboratories will continue to play a major role in the next decades.
What scientific topics are addressed underground?
Just to name a few: direct searches for dark matter particles, double beta decay, proton decay, solar neutrinos, geoneutrinos etc. All of this research needs to be performed underground. Of course, other forms of dark matter research can be done in space or in accelerator experiments.
10. SNO and SNOLAB - Sudbury, Canada
Solar Neutrinos are small particles that are born in the Sun’s Thermo Nuclear Fusion and travel near the speed of light. Right now, trillions and trillions of them are traveling through space. To get an idea of how many, take the earth’s population and multiply by 25. That is approximately how many neutrinos are passing through your thumbnail, right now.
Scientists know they exist but they are so small and travel so fast that seeing one in almost impossible. This is exactly why SNOLAB was built, where deep underground in SNOLAB, the level of cosmic rays is reduced 10 millionfold.
The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO for short) is 2km (6,800 feet) deep in the ground in Ontario, Canada. The Observatory was created to study neutrinos – weakly interacting particles – using the rock above it to filter out cosmic radiation. This ensured that only neutrinos, which easily penetrate matter, were observed. Right next to the SNO stands the SNOLAB, a new expansion to the neutrino and dark matter research program.
9. DUSEL Lead - South Dakota, USA
In 2010 the DUSEL Program Advisory Committee summarized:
We are impressed by the breadth and depth of the DUSEL science. The envisioned program in physics and astrophysics will address fundamental questions about the Universe and its fundamental laws, such as the question of why the universe contains matter but no antimatter, the nature of dark matter, the origin of neutrino mass, and the genesis of the chemical elements. … In addition, the Committee felt that the interdisciplinary laboratory, with sustained support, will provide unique scientific opportunities that engage and educate the next generation of scientists and engineers.
In December 2010, the National Science Board (NSB), in its role as the oversight body for the National Science Foundation (NSF), unexpectedly decided to deny further NSF funding for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) As it did so, the NSB nevertheless expressed its interest in the scientific programs moving forward. The SURF Project, including NSF and DOE, have spent ten years forging the path for creating these experiments and providing the facilities necessary to lead the worldwide effort.
8. Aquarius Reef Base – Florida Keys, USA
Aquarius Reef Base, in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, is the world’s only undersea research station. It is an underwater ocean laboratory deployed three and half miles offshore, at a depth of 60 feet, at the base of one of the many beautiful coral reefs comprising the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Scientists live in Aquarius during ten–day missions using saturation diving to study and explore the coastal ocean. Aquarius is owned by NOAA and is operated by the University of North Carolina Wilmington.
The technologically advanced lab also plays a vital role in underwater technology development and as a training facility for NASA’s Astronaut training program.
7. Kola Super Deep Borehole – Kola, Russia
The Kola Super Deep Borehole in Russia is a scientific project, which began in May 1970 on the Kola Peninsula. The project’s goal was to dig as deep as possible with an initial goal of depth set for 49,000 ft. However, after reaching, a depth of 40,000 ft. and experiencing higher than expected temperatures the drilling was halted and the project never resumed. This hole continues to provide a wealth of new information about our world and how it was formed as well as knowledge about our universe.
6. Svalbard Seed Bank – Spitsbergen Island, Norway
In a remote mountainside on the Norwegian tundra sits the “doomsday vault,” a backup against disaster — manmade or otherwise. Inside lives the last hope should the unthinkable occur: a global seedbank that could be used to replant the world.
It’s a modern day Noah’s Ark, in other words, full not of animals but of plantlife.
The Vault is dug into the Platåberget or plateau mountain near the village of Longyearbyen, Svalbard — a group of islands north of mainland Norway. The arctic permafrost offers natural freezing for the seeds, while additional cooling brings the temperatures down to minus 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit.
The facility is capable of holding four million samples and has two functions. First, to be able to restore agriculture should a global disaster of some kind reduce or threaten crops in any or all parts of the world. Its second function is the continuous supply to genetic research – viable genetic material for the development of new varieties of the plants to conform to global change and or water restrictive locations, a preventative step in our disaster preparation to ensure the future of our food supply.
5. Lake Vostok – Vostok Station, Antarctica
With tiny, living “time capsules” survived the ages in total darkness, in freezing cold, and without food and energy from the sun, this lake is a living underwater scientific lab. Experts estimate that the lake water itself may have been isolated for as long as 15 million years.
One of the most surprising and amazing discoveries of our time occurred in 1996 deep in the vast frozen wilderness of Antarctica. Russian scientists were drilling ice core samples. At just under 4000 feet (1.3km), the samples became clean. This, at first, baffled the scientific community until they realized they had discovered the world’s largest warm water sub glacial lake.
Even more shocking was finding microbial life in this unforgiving place. Drilling had to cease immediately as a lake buried that deep under ice is under enormous pressure. Had they broken through or even cracked or weakened the ice affecting the lake, it would have been forced upwards and out. The impact of this would have been devastating.
These problems, the location, and other concerns had everyone involved uncertain as to how to proceed. This is when NASA, realizing the potential applications for the enhancement of space travel, came up with a plan. With the greatest scientific minds from around the world coming to bear on the problem, it was not long before a Cryobot was conceptualized.
Cryobot is a probe that resembles a torpedo. It has a heated tip so that it can melt its way slowly towards the under-ice lake. The ice would refreeze behind it as it makes its way down, sealing it in and eliminating the possibility of depressurizing the site. Once there, it would give itself a sanitizing bath and then release a remote controlled robot (Hydrobot) that could explore and capture samples.
4. Super Kamiokande – Hida, Japan
Super kamiokande, located directly under Mount Kamiokako, near the Japanese city of Hida, is a Super Neutrino Detector laboratory 3,281 feet (1100m) below ground. The tank that makes up the largest portion of the device is approximately 136 feet (45m) tall and 129 feet (43m) across and contains fifty thousand tons of ultra-pure water.
The neutrinos pass through almost everything at close to the speed of light, including people. In water, however, they leave a slight trail of light, called Cherenkov radiation, the purer the water, the more visible the trip. When neutrinos collide with the nucleus of an atom, they emit a flash of light, leaving an imprint on a ring detector on the specialized wall of the tank. This is akin to taking a photograph of the event and allows scientist to study it. The reason the detector needs to be so deep underground is to block any neutrino’s from the sun interfering with the experiments.
3. Gran Sasso – Gran Sasso Mountains, Italy
Laboratori Nazionali del Gran Sasso is a particle physics laboratory near the Gran Sasso mountain in Italy, about 120 km from Rome. In addition to a surface portion of the laboratory, there are extensive underground facilities beneath the mountain. According to its official website, the Gran Sasso lab is, as of 2006, the largest underground particle physics laboratory in the world. The experimental halls are covered by about 1400m of rock, protecting the experiments from cosmic rays.
Lurking in Italy’s subterranean Gran Sasso National Laboratory, OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) detects neutrinos that are fired through the Earth from the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland. As the particles hardly interact at all with other matter, they stream right through the ground, with only a very few striking the material in the detector and making a noticeable shower of particles.
Gran Sasso uses lead from an ancient Roman shipwreck as a shield, which is donated by the National Archaeological Museum in Cagliari. This ancient lead is far less radioactive than the lead that is currently mined today.
2. IceCube – South Pole
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, built over a decade at a cost of $271 million, is buried over a kilometer under the South Pole and longer than the world’s tallest skyscrapers combined. This particle detector records the interactions of neutrinos, nearly massless sub-atomic particles.
The IceCube Observatory is designed to detect a blue light, called Cherenkov radiation, created by the nuclear reactions of individual neutrinos crashing into ice atoms. Cherenkov radiation is generally considered to be the equivalent of a sonic boom for light. The telescope searches for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources – events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars.
IceCube is operated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the National Science Foundation, with funding provided by the United States, Belgium, Germany, and Sweden. Researchers from Barbados, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are also involved in the project.
1. CERN – Geneva, Switzerland
The European Organization for Nuclear Research (French: Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire), known as CERN, is an international organization whose purpose is to operate the world’s largest particle physics laboratory. The lab which is situated 110 meters below ground in Northwest Geneva. The CERN organization is the largest gathering of scientists on the planet incorporating the efforts of over 7,900 experts in particle physics from 580 universities from more than 80 nationalities.