Sudbury's SNOLAB gets $100M from Ottawa to uncover mysteries of the universe

The underground SNOLAB laboratory in Sudbury, Ont., is receiving more than $100 million from the federal government to continue research on astroparticle physics. 

The funding will extend research initiatives into 2029, SNOLAB's former interim executive director says

People in blue jumpsuits with helmets on.
SNOLAB researchers welcomed politicians two kilometres underground in Sudbury, Ont., for a $100-million announcement Friday to continue research there. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

Sudbury's underground SNOLAB laboratory has received more than $100 million from the federal government to continue research on astroparticle physics. 

"This is a moment to celebrate for everyone in Sudbury," said Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry François-Philippe Champagne during a news conference Friday in the northern Ontario laboratory, which is two kilometres below the Earth's surface.

"They'll be able to continue their work of detecting the whisper of signals to radioactive noise."

The funding is part of a $628-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation's Major Science Initiative Fund, which will support 19 research infrastructure projects at 14 institutions across the country.

Clarence Virtue, SNOLAB's former interim executive director, said the $100 million will extend SNOLAB's research initiatives into 2029.

Jodi Cooley, SNOLAB's current executive director, said investment will support new equipment and help the laboratory attract "world-class talent" to continue uncovering the secrets of the universe.

"Next-generation astroparticle physics experiments rely on cutting-edge technology to push the limits of sensitivity," Cooley said.

"SNOLAB is leading the way in developing technology for cryogenics and noble gas systems, both of which will be required by the experiments of the future as we push to unlock the mysteries of the universe."

Cooley said a lot of the current research at SNOLAB is focused on studying what scientists call dark matter.

"We have a lot of evidence from astronomy that points to the idea that there is matter out there in the universe and in our own galaxy that we can't see," she said.

"It's not luminous, so we can't see it in telescopes that way. It's not even in the X-ray spectrum like."

By running experiments deep underground, SNOLAB researchers can filter out the cosmic rays and particles that would interfere with their search for dark matter.

Cooley said the underground laboratory also has some medical experiments, to understand exactly how radiation causes cancer – and what effect a lack of radiation might have.

"So one of the things that's going on underground is understanding, okay, so we know if we get too much radiation, that can be a problem. What happens if you get too little radiation?" Cooley said.

Top-down view of an underground laboratory.
The underground SNOLAB laboratory in Greater Sudbury has a number of research experiments related to astroparticle physics and health care. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

In 2015, Canadian researcher Arthur McDonald was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his experiments on subatomic particles called neutrinos at SNOLAB.

McDonald, who is a professor emeritus with Queen's University, and his team, along with researchers in Japan, discovered neutrinos have mass and change "flavour" as they travel from the sun to the Earth. 

The discovery led scientists to re-examine the role neutrinos played in the universe's evolution.

With files from Bridget Yard