Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ten Things I Learned During My Trip to SNOLAB

By Maxine Myre
1. Why are they 2 km underground, anyways?
Getting to SNOLAB is a whole process.  The first step in reaching the lab is getting geared up with mining clothes and descending 2070m (or just over 2 km) underground in a mine shaft. The 2 km of rock above the SNOLAB facilities protects the sensitive detection system from cosmic rays.

2. An entirely new appreciation for the term 'clean-freak'.
SNOLAB is a Class2000 clean lab.  This means that only 2000 particles of dust and other materials are permitted in a 1-meter cubic space.  If we compare this to the 35 million particles per cubic meter found in everyday environments, that's clean.  But remember, workers have walked 1.8 km in a mine drift before arriving at the lab doors!  Workers must fully shower and change clothing before entering the lab.  Now that the workers are clean, there's all the equipment!  Every single piece of equipment brought in is cleaned before installation.  This even includes the many nuts and bolts on the machines.

3. SNOLAB has its own sewage system facility underground.

SNOLAB has something special that is unique to underground facilities but rarely mentioned: flushing toilets.  This is possible due to their small underground sewage treatment facility, which can support up to 100 people.  How does it work?  Aerobic bacteria are responsible for breaking down waste products.

4. There is still so much to discover about the Universe.
Experiments conducted at SNOLAB are attempting to answer some of the most fundamental questions remaining in physics - from the development and fate of the Universe to the workings of the smallest sub-atomic particles.  It turns out that there is more that we don't know than we do know!  In fact, what we know as matter only makes up about 5% of what exists!

5. Dark matter is different than dark energy.
For non-physicits, it is difficult to distinguish between similar sounding terms like dark matter and dark energy.  Without going into too many details, dark matter is different than dark energy.

6. Multiple Instruments are trying to detect the same thing.
Physicists are pretty sure they know how much dark matter there is, but do not know what it is.  In the quest for dark matter, multiple experiments are seeking the successful detection of dark matter.  Each of these experiments is located in a separate cavity connected by hallways.

7. International collaborations are key to success.
SNOLAB functions as a collaboration between five Canadian Universities - namely, Carleton University, Laurentian University, Queen's University, University of Alberta, and Université de Montréal.  In addition to being a national research facility, international partnerships play an important role in conducting each experiment.

8. Scientists at SNOLAB are accessible and willing to share their enthusiasm.
Unlike the physicists portrayed in shows like The Big Bang Theory, the scientists and other workers at SNOLAB are friendly and engaging.  While concepts such as astroparticle physics, the search for dark matter, and neutrinos can often seem too complicated to understand, SNOLAB scientists always make an effort in explaining their research to anyone who will listen.

9. Exciting projects are coming to SNOLAB.
SNOLAB operations began in 1990 and show no signs of slowing down.  Along with their current projects on neutrinos and dark matter, their scope of research is expanding to geology, mining, and even biology by exploring deep sub-surface life.

10. SNOLAB is an internationally known facility.
I'm proud to know that such cutting-edge science is ongoing in Sudbury.  Thanks to SNOLAB, Canada remains a key player in the search for answers to the big questions of the Universe.

- Maxine Myre, SciComm '14

Friday, June 13, 2014

Internship Spotlight: Jillian Leonard

Three Countries, One Internship
Communicating Science in Canada, Austria and Italy

Sudbury is approximately 2100km from the Atlantic Ocean. It is 3800km from the Pacific Ocean and 700km from the Arctic Ocean (if we’re calling James Bay the Arctic Ocean). My internship with the European Multidisciplinary Seafloor and Water Column Observatory (EMSO) is based in Sudbury, but it still keeps me close to the ocean, gleefully communicating the importance of marine research.

EMSO is a consortium of 13 countries in the European union with observatories scattered throughout Europe from the Arctic to the Black Sea. The information collected at these laboratories ranges from seismic and physical data to acoustic readings contributing to marine mammal research. This varies based on the primary research goals of each country, but combined will help us understand the relationship between the atmosphere, geosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere.

Although it would be a dream to spend time in all thirteen countries, my travels with EMSO involved just two: Austria and Italy.  

The European Geosciences Union (EGU) regularly holds their general assembly in the capital city of Vienna, Austria. I was lucky enough to be a part of this year’s event as a member of the EMSO team. Over 10,000 people attended the conference, representing every branch of the Earth-Ocean sciences.

While I did get to listen to some of the many interesting seminars, my main role at EGU was to chat with conference-goers at the EMSO exhibit. In the weeks leading up to the conference I prepared two short videos using footage provided by EMSO’s partner institutions, which were played on a TV in the background of our booth.  Meanwhile, the dynamic personalities of EMSO charmed and informed the masses. Overall it was an amazing experience where I met some pretty incredible researchers and learned more about the history and future plans of EMSO.

EMSO’s interim office is currently hosted by the Istituto Nazionale de Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) in Rome, so after a busy week in Vienna, I headed to Italy to meet these EMSO team members in person. As a new and evolving organization, their focus is currently on developing and implementing a communication plan. The things I learned in Vienna combined with the interviews I had with EMSO members in Rome gave me all the material I needed to prepare a communication map and strategy for future internal and external communication.

During one of my meetings in Rome, I met with a geophysicist who is a scientist with EMSO. He told me: “statistics is truly the common language that links scientists”. An insightful statement, but EMSO’s goals are even more amazing and much more challenging. They are using science as the common language to link different research institutions and to a larger extent, different nations. If 13 nations with unique languages, cultures and histories can be joined by science, then there is hope for scientists in other countries around the world. 

-Jillian Leonard, SciComm '14