BoulbyHor1Boulby Underground Laboratory, an STFC facility, is featured today in a BBC article on how the research conducted there could provide insight into whether life could survive in the extreme environments "beyond the Earth".  Earlier this year Lead Educator Ian Tippey joined a group of teachers for a visit to the mine where this and other research takes place.  Here is Ian's account of his visit to Boulby Mine.

"Back in April I was one of a group of teachers who work with Durham University and The Ogden Trust invited to Boulby Mine, Saltburn by the Sea, Cleveland in order to visit one of the worlds leading Dark Matter research facilities.  Boulby Mine is one of Europe's deepest mines being over 1100m below the North Yorkshire Moors and the North Sea. 

We had many briefings before we descended due to the high security environment and the effects descending to such depths can have on the human body.  After these briefings and removal of ALL electrical devices, a discussion above ground on the experiments being performed in the mine occurred before changing into our fetching bright orange overalls. 

We then proceeded to the mine shaft with the rest of our safety equipment, helmet, head torch and shin guards where we received two tokens to give the lift operator, one for the way down and one for when we safely returned.  We passed through two airlocks to allow our ears to become accustomed to the much greater air pressure at the bottom.  We then entered the industrial lift.  The journey down took 6 minutes (in a fast lift) and was extremely noisy due to the large fans blowing down to ventilate the mine and obviously extremely dark when all torches were turned off.

It was overwhelming how large the mine was.  There were roads with cars and lorries; the face where the mining was occurring was over 10km from the lift shaft.  It was also around 25ºC, much warmer than on the surface.  It was now a ten minute walk to the research laboratory, dodging the odd car.

After entering the lab through a secure door, we were prepared to enter a clean room environment so as a first step we had to blow away any dust from our boots and clothes.  We then walked down a corridor and changed into a 'bunny suit' and over shoes ready to enter the clean room.  Walking down another corridor there was a sudden drop of several inches because the lab had been built across an active fault line.  We passed through another airlock and entered the lab.

It looked like a standard university laboratory with some large experiments going on along the 50m long room.  It is situated so far underground to ensure a highly controlled environment with reduced levels of cosmic rays that would interfere with the results of the experiments.  This room contained the following experiments:

·         DRIFT (II) Dark Matter Study

·         Muon Tomography Study

·         Environmental Gamma Spectroscopy

·        SKY-­ZERO Climate Study

A side room was being prepared for Geomicrobiology/Astrobiology Studies which was imminent.  We were given an overview of the experiments which was made available as a document prepared by Sean Paling, the facility director, here.

After visiting the lab we went for a walk to the side of the mine where the air is leaving the mine, and after passing through a series of doors to separate the two halves of the mine we entered the 'warm' side of the mine which was above 40°C.  We then collected several samples of rock salt before returning to the lift and the surface."

View of Boulby Mine from above, source here