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Tour a Subterranean Dark Matter Lab in 360º VR

Join us on a Motherboard Field Trip to SNOLAB, a particle physics research facility inside a working mine in Ontario, Canada.

by Derek Mead
Feb 3 2017, 5:05pm

Carrying a VR camera made of 16 GoPros and a 40 pound battery pack 6,800 feet underground in a dark mine elevator wasn't how I'd anticipated spending last Thanksgiving, but this is just what happens when you're hanging out with Motherboard's Canada editor Kate Lunau. Thankfully, the payoff was visiting one of the coolest labs on Earth—or, perhaps better put, under the Earth.

Earlier this week we published a video about SNOLAB, an ultra-clean, high-tech laboratory in northern Ontario. It's located inside a working nickel mine, which makes it a great place to look for mysterious subatomic particles like neutrinos and dark matter—all the rock overhead shields its experiments from the interference of cosmic rays from space.

We highly recommend watching this video in a YouTube-friendly VR headset like Google Cardboard or Daydream to get the stereo effect.

Scientists at SNOLAB are probing the universe for dying stars and nuclear reactions in the sun. They're also studying the effects of living and working so deep underground, where the pressure is much higher than at the surface, and there's much less radiation.

What you didn't know if you watched that video (and please do!) is that I was tagging along to experiment with an Odyssey camera, which shoots stereoscopic 360 video, meaning scenes have a depth and realism that's pretty mind-boggling when you first give it a spin. The Odyssey cam's stereo 360 video output works specifically with YouTube, and is a significantly cooler experience if you view it on Google Cardboard or any other VR headset that can play YouTube vids. Trust me on that one. (Side note: you can't have wireless mics in an active mine for fear of triggering explosions, so don't mind our sound guy Nathan tagging along in the shots.)

Few people get to ever visit SNOLAB, so I hoped a VR field trip would be a close analog. It's hard to describe what it's like to leave a mile-long, dimly-lit mineshaft, shower off with a bunch of remarkable physicists, and enter the gleaming facility, which has to be kept cleaner than an operating room in order to prevent dust from futzing with SNOLAB's incredibly sensitive particle detectors. But strolling through its white tunnels, it's what I'd imagine entering a space station would be like.

In any case, I hope you enjoy our little tour here. It was a good learning experience and a little sampling of what's to come this year on Motherboard. Your thoughts are always appreciated, especially if you've got a suggestion for our next field trip. Tell me where you want to go: I'm on Twitter at @derektmead, or you can email me at derek@motherboard.tv.