Boulby Potash Mine, North East England
The Boulby facility currently hosts nine collaborative research projects, involving scientists from 20 universities and national research institutes (including NASA, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre). Projects include:
- Search for dark matter: The DRIFT (Directional Recoil Identification from Tracks) project seeks to identify WIMPs (Weakly Interacting Massive Particles), by utilising low pressure gas TPC technology in order to recreate nuclear recoil events. DRIFT is US/UK-operated (and involves the universities of Sheffield, Edinburgh, Occidental College, New Mexico State, Colorado State, Yale, and Wisconsin).
- ‘BUGS‘ Material-screening facilities: Boulby houses one of the world’s best germanium detector facilities (the ‘BUGS’ facility: Boulby Underground Germanium Suite) for selecting ultra-low activity materials for use in building future dark matter detectors including the upcoming LZ detector and detectors for other ‘rare-event’ studies.
- Muon tomography study: This is a UK/US project on the development of particle detection techniques for deep 3D geological survey applications including site- monitoring for Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). The technique, which uses naturally occurring cosmic-ray muon particles from space to create images of deep structures in overhead rock, also has potential applications in mining.
- Geomicrobiology/astrobiology: Microbial life found in the rock deep underground at Boulby provides unique insight into the limits of life on Earth and how organisms might develop and survive on other planets. Furthermore the geology and environment of Boulby is similar in many respects to that of Mars, and the laboratory is being established as an international ‘analogue site’ for developing instrumentation for future explorations of Mars and other planets.
- Environmental gamma spectroscopy: The UK has world-leading expertise in environmental gamma spectroscopy, and research which builds on this capability is being carried out at Boulby. Existing UK studies into ecology, the environment and landscape evolution use sensitive apparatus to measure the ultra-faint ‘radioactive fingerprints’ emitted by various natural environmental samples. Work at Boulby extends the reach of existing surface studies exploiting the low background environment underground.
- Other studies: The Boulby facility hosts a handful of smaller ‘low-background’ and ‘rare-event’ projects – supporting studies in areas including astrophysics, particle physics, security and the environment. In partnership with ICL UK, Boulby also facilitates on-going research in geology, providing access to the mine’s wider environs. Various additional projects, in areas ranging from geology and geophysics to particle physics and biology, are also being considered as future studies for the new underground laboratory.