It will take you six minutes of descending underground to reach the deepest mine in Great Britain, 1.1 kilometres below the surface. Welcome to the only deep underground science facility in the United Kingdom – Boulby Underground Laboratory.
Boulby is a special place for science; ‘a quiet place in the universe’ where studies can be carried out almost entirely free of interference from natural background radiation. It’s so far down you need to take a lift to get there. Science projects underway at Boulby Underground Laboratory range from astrophysics (including the search for dark matter in the universe), to ultra-low background material screening, studies of geology and geophysics, climate, the environment, life in extreme environments on Earth and beyond.
The laboratory is located at Boulby Mine, between Saltburn and Whitby on the north-east coast of England and on the edge of the moors of North Yorkshire. Boulby mine is a working potash, polyhalite and rock salt mine operated by ICL UK.
There is a huge underground network of roadways and caverns with over 1,000 kilometres of tunnels excavated since the beginning of mining operations in 1968. The salt and potash seams mined here are left over from the evaporation of an ancient sea (the Zechstein Sea) some 250 million years ago.
At the location of the Boulby Underground Laboratory there is 1,100 metres of rock overhead. This makes it an ideal place for research because the rock reduces the rate of natural cosmic rays by a factor of a million compared to surface levels. With this, and with the surrounding rock salt being low in natural background radioactivity, Boulby makes an ideal site for ultra-low background and deep underground science projects.
Boulby has hosted underground science since the 1990s. Today, the Boulby Underground Laboratory is operated by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) with the support of the ICL UK.
Last updated: 31 March 2022