Underground Research

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Photos of the Month - October 2018

Audrey Lengel, Photo Archivist

We’re diving into some underground science this month. No, not secretive research or covert studies, but actual science done under Earth’s surface. I was inspired to pull together this set of photos after recently stumbling upon the first photo below of Arthur S. Eve, David A. Keys, and James W. Joyce in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Mammoth Cave is one of the largest known caves on Earth and was the site of multiple radio communication experiments in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Joyce (acknowledging Eve and Keys) published a paper in 1931 detailing some of their observations of Mammoth Cave and, “the fact that such waves penetrate the earth’s surface and that, in so doing, absorption occurs. The question is vital to geophysics, since the successful operation of all induction methods depends upon this factor.” Joyce’s findings present just one example of how important discoveries are made deep underground.

Subterranean physics isn’t limited to naturally-occurring caves, however; research today is being performed in former lead mines, in man-made tunnels, and by drilling cores deep into Earth’s crust. The selected photos this month show all kinds of underground research; if you’re interested in learning more about the topic from a modern perspective, I recommend this article from Symmetry magazine which profiles 12 underground labs from around the world.

Arthur S. Eve, David A. Keys, and James W. Joyce measure the absorption of radio waves in rock with instrument in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, 1929. Joyce published a paper titled ‘Electromagnetic absorption by rocks’ in 1931 detailing some of their observations of Mammoth Cave.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives

Morris Perlman, Gerhart Friedlander, and Raymond Davis inspecting data in the underground lab at Homestake, South Dakota, 4850 feet underground. Now home to the Sanford Underground Research Facility, this mine initially held Davis’s solar neutrino detector. The measurements from this detector led to the development of the solar neutrino problem.

Credit line: Photo courtesy Brookhaven National Laboratory

The heavy water tank below the floor of the Zero Energy Experimental Pile reactor (ZEEP) in Chalk River, Ontario. ZEEP was the first nuclear reactor to go critical (September 5, 1945) outside of the United States.

Credit line: AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Kowarski Collection

Emilio Picasso (center with blue hat) and others gathered at the construction entrance of the Large Electron-Positron Collider (LEP) tunnel near Geneva, Switzerland; the LEP tunnel was built 300 feet underground and was repurposed in the early 2000’s to be used by the Large Hadron Collider. Picasso served as the LEP Project Director from 1981-1989.

Credit line: CERN

Morton C. Smith and Francis G. West of the Los Alamos Scientific Lab examine a core sample taken from a depth of 3700 feet at the Fenton Hill geothermal test site in the Jemez Mountains west of Los Alamos.

Credit line: Los Alamos National Laboratory, courtesy of AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives, Physics Today Collection

A view of the construction of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center tunnel (SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory) on October 24, 1963. The main SLAC accelerator, located 30 feet underground, has been up and running since 1966.

Credit line: Photograph by Muffley, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè Visual Archives