Unraveling the mysteries of the Universe in a deep underground mine

Have you ever imagined that two kilometers below the surface there may be a physics lab with scientists and ultramodern equipment to unravel mysteries of the Universe? It looks like a scene straight out of a science fiction movie, but it is one of Vale's major investments in the area of innovation.


Considered the deepest and cleanest laboratory in the world, the Snolab (Sudbury Neutrino Observatory Lab) is nestled in the depths of our Creighton mine, in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. With huge tanks filled with Argon, a noble gas similar to nitrogen, and other cooled gases, the laboratory enhances scientific research production and generates and disseminates new knowledge to the mining chain.

Snolab for the world

Among the main studies conducted at the site is one that is looking into a rare radioactive process called neutrino-less double beta decay, which could explain the development of matter and of the world. Some research projects are in search, for example, for particles of dark matter left over from the Big Bang, the great explosion that gave rise to the Universe. Abundant in the Cosmos, neutrino is one of these particles. Electric charge-free and with an extremely small mass, it is considered a key element, because it can relate both with matter and dark matter.



Snolab for Vale

Snolab also serves as a mounting base for the three-dimensional seismic monitoring system called Pups (Polaris Underground Project at Snolab), which provides detailed information about seismic activity to the mining industry. This geotechnical information, for example, help us to plan deep mine excavations.

Researcher and lab director Nigel Smith says Snolab has several research projects underway that can be applied to Vale's business and to mining. Some of them are related to rock excavations and drilling, activities commonly performed by this industry.

There is still a lot to be researched with regard to the best ways to mine, to open and maintain digs. This is one of the areas that we can still contribute to by developing other techniques. Vale's support is crucial to open up new frontiers for science.

Snolab Director

The Earth as a shield

The Earth as a shield

But, after all, why is the lab underground? The depth is necessary to protect the environment from cosmic radiation bombarding the planet's surface. Being built two kilometers beneath the surface, Snolab allows scientists to conduct experiments in environments where there is the least possible interference from environmental and solar radioactivity.

The degree of sensitivity is such that the experiments can be affected by uranium present in concrete of the caves and even by the potassium contained in the sweat of one’s hand. Using the Earth as a shield against cosmic rays affords the best conditions for research to be carried out in pursuit of gaining a better understanding of the Universe, such as on the emergence of galaxies, for example.