“Dig it and they will come” could be the tagline for SNOLAB, the world-leading research centre for particle physics and astrophysics created by efforts that included a leading role by Carleton.
SNOLAB is one of a handful of deep underground facilities recently built around the world. It is a protected place where scientists can install specialized detectors to study the intricate gyrations of subatomic particles, such as neutrinos, and also to investigate dark matter, the substance believed to make up 25 percent of the mass of the universe.
This research is aimed at understanding how the universe holds together and whether and how supernovas created all the chemical elements heavier than iron.
With an area slightly larger than three standard NHL rinks, more than two kilometres underground near Sudbury, SNOLAB is the deepest of all such underground facilities—and the cleanest. Although the lab branches off from a working nickel mine, an intricate system of filters and air locks keeps it as dust-free as a microchip factory.
Such extreme lengths are necessary because the particle collisions that researchers are studying produce such weak signals that they are easily swamped by a cacophony of noise from cosmic rays and natural radioactivity above ground.
Carleton oversaw the removal of 83,000 tonnes of rock to transform the original Sudbury Neutrino Observatory into SNOLAB, which provides free space to researchers based on the merit of their experiments. The $65 million cost also included a research centre on the surface.