SNOWLAB - The Sudbury Neutrino Observatory

2 km Beneath Sudbury, Ontario - May 15 2019
What a cool experience. I got to help out Joe Grabowski from Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants do a live classroom broadcast from 2 km underground inside SNOLAB, a research facility deep inside an active nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario. The scientists at SNOLAB are studying things such as neutrino particles and dark matter. Some of the most mysterious things in the universe. Neutrinos pass right through most matter (including YOU right now), and by having the detection equipment deep underground, it makes it much easier to shield their sensors from background radiation and other contaminants. The problem is that to be that deep underground requires some special procedures to get down there and back, and to keep the lab as clean as possible. No easy task.




SNOLAB is located deep underground in a working nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario.

Arrival at the SNOLAB facility above ground. It is here where we were briefed for the trip underground and given safety gear to wear (coveralls, boots, safety glasses, helmet, and harness belt.

The elevator ride down was incredibly fast and dark. My ears kept popping numerous times on the way down. The elevator drops at about 40 km/h. Once at depth, we had to walk about 1 1/5 km through the mine, an area called "The Drift".




A selfie in The Drift. @ km, or about 1.2 miles underground.

Myself, Joe Grabowski, and our SNOLAB escorts in The Drift.

This is the are where the dirty section of active mine meets the clean area of SNOLAB. We had take off all our "dirty" clothes, take a shower, then change into clean clothes provided for us.




The SNOLAB facility is a sprawling series of tunnels and chambers, about the size of a shopping mall! The place is huge. Because of the sensitive equipment, the whole place is treated like a clean room. Particulate matter in the air can be bad for the sensors used by the scientists.

We had to bring lunch with us, and my Pringles can collapsed from the increased air pressure of being so deep underground.

Using the "Air Shower" where jets of air blow across us to get even more dust particles off of us before entering one of the main control rooms where the neutrino detection is done.




Joe, in the control room. Every person who works here has to go through the same procedure for coming down into the mine & decontamination.

Me, holding the flag of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society in a very special room. This place is directly above the giant sphere that contains all the sensors used to detect the neutrinos. We were lucky to be able to briefly go in here before they started running the experiments with everything turned on.

The readout of the Neutrino detection system. The sphere on the screen shows the status of the sensor array.




The sensor array showing some neutrino particles detected, represented by the coloured spots. There are millions of neutrinos passing through your body at this very second, and we never notice them.

One of the sensors from the array. They are very sensitive photo-sensors that detect the tiniest flashes of light the neutrinos create.

There are many experiments going on here, the SNO+ experiment is one of them.




The whole facility has a definite science fiction feel to it. Unusual machinery, pipes, wires, chemicals and more everywhere you look.

A large part of our universe is made up of matter that we cannot detect directly, only its gravitational effects. These scientists are building a new Dark Matter detector to hopefully detect this mysterious substance for the first time.

Joe Grabowski and I with the flag of the National Geographic Society, in front of the new Dark Matter detector that is being build.




The science program at SNOLAB is primarily focused on sub-atomic and astroparticle physics, specifically the search for dark matter and the study of neutrino properties and sources.

SNOLAB needs to be located deep underground to shield these sensitive experiments from the cosmic radiation that bombards the surface of the planet and would overwhelm the detectors. Placing 2km of rock between the detectors and the surface reduces this radiation by a factor of 50 million.

Fun fact: Professor Stephen Hawking visited the SNOLAB facility twice, using a specially designed railcar to allow him to travel through The Drift and into the clean facility.




The facility is constantly upgrading and adding new experiments that are funded by governments and universities from around the world.

The walls have been sprayed with concrete and painted with a special thick coating to eliminate dust and to keep the facility clean.

Another experiment. Around every corner, there were various experiments that were set up to detect Neutrinos, supernovas, and dark matter.



Joe and I, broadcasting to several classrooms around North America, and live streaming on YouTube for Exploring By The Seat Of Your Pants. We connected one of the SNOLAB scientists with the kids to learn about what they do here.

A regular toilet? Nope... This is the deepest flush-toilet in the world! There are 3 of theme at SNOLAB, and they even have their own sewage treatment system.