Overview of the Laboratory
24 Feb 2010
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Background to the Laboratory

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The Boulby Underground Laboratory is one of just a handful of facilities world-wide suitable for hosting ultra-low background and deep underground science projects. Boulby is a special place for science - 'a Quiet Place in the Universe' - where studies can be carried out almost entirely free of interference from natural background radiation.

The Boulby laboratory is located at Boulby Mine, between Saltburn and Whitby on the North-East coast of England and on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors (link opens in a new window).

Boulby is a working potash, polyhalite and rock-salt mine operated by Cleveland Potash Ltd. At 1100m deep, it is the deepest mine in Great Britain.

There are a huge network of roadways and caverns underground at Boulby with over 1000kms of tunnel having been excavated since beginning of mining operations in 1968. The salt and potash seams are left over from the evaporation of an ancient sea (the Zechstein Sea) over 200 million years ago. The main roadways and long-lasting caverns are cut into the rock-salt layer. Within the salt caverns, UK scientists and engineers have built a series of laboratories. With over 1100m of rock overhead reducing cosmic rays by a factor 1 million - and with the surrounding rock salt being low in natural background radioactivity - the laboratories make an ideal site for ultra-low background and deep underground science projects.

The support facilities at Boulby include a dedicated surface building with staging / storage, workshop, health & safety, mess and office facilities. Underground there is over 1000m2 of laboratory floor space. The most recent laboratory space (the Palmer laboratory) has >750 m2 of clean-room floor space, with air conditioning / filtration, power, craning facilities, telephone and internet access, workshop & storage facilities etc. The mine operators Cleveland Potash Ltd provide additional essential support facilities.

For a number of years Boulby has hosted the UK’s Dark Matter search studies, operating some of the most sensitive detectors in the world to try to detect Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs) the strongest candidate for the missing matter in the universe. Boulby continues to host Dark Matter search studies, currently with the DRIFT-II project, the world most sensitive directional dark matter detector.

Recently it has become clear that access and work-space in a deep underground environment is highly valuable in a broad range of science areas beyond astrophysics. This is very much in evidence at Boulby with a number of new studies underway or evolving including studies of cosmic rays and climate, astrobiology and life in extreme environments, development of techniques for deep 3D geological monitoring and various gamma spectroscopy studies of radioactivity in the environment. The Boulby Underground Science Facility is funded by the UK’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and operates in close partnership with the Boulby mine operating company Cleveland Potash Limited.

Alternatively, view the STFC website (link opens in a new window).

Contact: Toth, Christopher (STFC,Boulby Mine,PPD)

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