BY CRAIG GILBERT
Dozens of dignitaries, members of the media and at least one sitting member of parliament got a look at how far researchers have to go to get to the
frontier of knowledge Monday morning.
The tour guests stripped their excess clothing, donned safety boots, gloves, glasses, a hardhat and overalls, all to travel to the deepest reaches of
IncoÂ?s Creighton Mine.
After a three-minute ride straight down at 40 km/h to the 6,800 ft. level, they walked another kilometre away from the ore body and the violent activity that surrounds it to the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory.
After a brief tour of part of the support infrastructure, Nickel Belt MP Ray Bonin joined Dr. David Strangway, president of the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and Dr. David Sinclair, director and principal investigator of SNOLAB in a groundbreaking ceremony at the future entrance to the permanent, $38.9 million expansion to the research facility.
The new expansion is called SNOLAB and it wants to start explaining the universe in better detail before 2008.
Without it, SNO would have had no neutrinos to study save those from its own sunset. But with the addition of the International Facility for
Underground Science, research from the deepest depths of number nine shaft will continue indefinitely.
Major excavation is slated to begin in March.
The SNO project was conceived in 1984, and world renowned physicist Steven Hawking attended its opening in April 1998.
In May 1999, full detector operations began. In 2001 and 2002 its findings were released and were named among the top science stories each
year by Science magazine.
The current staff of SNO is about 24. That number should increase by about half when SNOLAB begins operations.
The SNO was designed to monitor the behaviour of neutrinos, which are produced during the reactions that create the most basic elements in the
universe in the core of the sun, and constantly flow through the earth at close to the speed of light.
The major finding of SNO was some neutrinos were changing type, or Â?flavour,Â? on the way to earth. This meant, contrary to existing theory, that
neutrinos have mass. Pinning down exactly what that absolute mass is will be one of the goals of SNOLAB.
Funding for the project comes from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation and was announced by Secretary of State for Fednor and rural
development Andy Mitchell in Science NorthÂ?s Inco Cavern earlier in the morning.
Mitchell reminded everyone that a $95,000 grant from FedNor in April 2002 funded the planning and development of the SNOLAB proposal to the
Â?This collaborative international project being undertaken here in Canada confirms our reputation as a strong competitor in the
commercialization of knowledge, and the promotion of research and development,Â? he said.
FedNor also funded the $500,000 first phase of the international facility for underground science, which was an expansion of the existing SNO
Sinclair, a Carlton physics professor, said there is no shortage of ideas for the three experiment halls to be constructed.
Some time ago, he said a meeting was held and 18 experiments were considered.
Now that the list has been whittled down, he said, the key is to focus all of the energy directed at those projects on the two or three that will be
Canada Research Chair in experimental particle physics Dr. Alain Bellerive, also of Carlton, said the unique depth of number nine shaft will be
put to good use by SNOLAB technicians. The new labs will be deeper than the existing observatory and the experiments more sensitive.
The two kilometres of rock will be needed to shield the labs from the cosmic rays we are constantly bombarded with here on the surface and from radiation.
The researchers and technicians there will have no smaller mandate than to address critical questions in astrophysics so as to understand the
creation and evolution of the universe.
Bellerive, 33, said SNOLAB will conduct experiemtns dealing with solar neutrinos and other, types of neutrinos as well as search for Â?dark matter.Â?
The Picasso project will be administered by the University of Montreal and will look for dark matter. Dark matter is thought by scientists to account for upwards of 90 per cent of the mass in the universe but has yet to be concretely detected.
Â?VisibleÂ? matter, by comparison, accounts for less than a quarter of the universeÂ?s mass.
SNOLAB will be approximately 32,000 sq. ft in area, about half of which will be used for experiments.
The original plan called for one large, 60 x 60 metre experiment hall, but the working model will have two halls, one of 10,000 sq. ft. with two experiments and the other 5,000 sq. ft.
Another observatory to compliment SNO will also be installed.
LaurentianÂ?s Dr. Doug Hallman is the director of communications for SNO and on the design team for SNOLABÂ?s cleanroom facilities.
He said the success of SNO and now SNOLAB have made the physics department at Laurentian more visible, and has benefited other departments and the university as a whole.
Chemists and engineers, for example, were needed to help with the design, construction and maintenance of the water system.
Jacques Farine and Clarence Virtue, principal investigator for Laurentian, are other faculty members on the Laurentian research team.
Research associates include Bassam Aharmim,
Fabrice Fleurot, Andre Krueger and Michael Schwendener. Laurentian graduate students involved include Steffon Luoma, Chris Mullin and Matt Smith.
The Laurentian research group has been deeply involved in the SNO experiment, advancing several of the core technologies that made that
experiment possible and that are at the heart of future experiments which one day may be located in the new SNOLAB.
Hallman said the group is very excited about the opportunities for future research and collaboration that the new lab brings and is currently very active in exploring the range of possibilities for future research directions.
Â?The creation of SNOLAB is a testament to the strength of the particle astrophysics community in Canada, and in particular to the outstanding
success of the SNO experiment,Â? Virtue said. Â?For Laurentian University it represents an
opportunity to collaborate at the highest international levels providing Northern Ontario students with unique research experiences."
Partnerships are the key to the project, its proponents stressed. Six universities, including Laurentian, Carlton, University of Montreal,
University of Guelph, QueenÂ?s University and the University of British Columbia are involved with SNOLAB.
Carlton is the projectÂ?s administrator and will technically receive all of the funding.
It has been involved with the SNO project since its conception in 1984-85 and, among other things, designed and constructed the water systems.
Those water systems ensured the $300 million stock of heavy water on loan from the federal government stayed at an unprecedented level of
purity; an incident rate of one atom per tonne is necessary to keep the experiments uncontaminated.
Sinclair was the associate director (science) and deputy director of SNO.
The $38.9 from CFI will go toward the excavation of the new cavern, surface support, equipment, new labs at Laurentian and operational support
for the next five years.
Construction is expected to wrap up in 2007.
Sinclair said there is a lot of pressure tied to $39 million, but he is confident the team assembled and the partners involved will meet and surpass
the expectations placed upon them.
Under the same kind of pressure, SNO released two sets of data that were each named among the top science stories of the year in 2001 and 2002
Sinclair was recently named a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and Dr. Art McDonald, director of the SNO Institute since 1989, last
month was awarded the 2003 Gerhard Hertz Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.
The medal is the honour of all honours in Canadian science, and comes with $1million in research funding.