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Going underground

Ten teachers from the Ogden Teacher Network ventured into the Boulby Underground Laboratory learning about the cutting-edge search for Dark Matter and how it can be brought into the classroom.

Published: 10 January 2022

STFC’s Boulby Underground Laboratory has been the UK home of the search for Dark Matter since the 1990s. One thousand one hundred metres of absorbing rock overhead reduces cosmic rays to a millionth of surface levels. Combine this with the surrounding rock salt being low in background radiation, it makes it ideally placed to hunt for the missing matter that makes up our universe.

Ten teachers from the Ogden Network joined that ‘hunt’ when they made a visit to Boulby to discover more about the ground-breaking research taking place and how that can be brought into the classroom to inspire future physicists.

The group experienced the seven-minute descent to the heart of the mine, where they explored the laboratory, guided by the STFC science team. Visiting scientists involved in the MINAR project demonstrated their experiments, including a rover in development for use on other planets. Back above ground again, the teachers discussed the links between the work done at Boulby and the A-level physics curriculum and considered how to bring examples into the classroom. Lauren, from the STFC public engagement team, shared resources that the teachers could use. Some teachers even took home their clean room attire and some rock salt samples to show their students.

“Following this visit we hope that the teachers will be able to provide their learners with context and real-life examples of some of the incredible research science STFC and UKRI are supporting across the UK,” enthuses Henry Hammond, Ogden adviser for physics leadership and teaching, who helped to lead the group.

“The discussions on the day were fantastic and I am excited to see how this enthusiasm and the new ideas are brought to the curriculum,’ continues Henry. “There are just so many links to explore … gravitational potential, escape velocities, why the Martian atmosphere is so thin compared to Earth’s; forces and terminal velocity physics … I could go on!”

a large group in white protective clothing and orange hard hats

Clare Harvey, Chief Executive of the Trust, who accompanied the trip, agrees, “We really hope this trip inspires and motivates the teachers who took part, and that they can share this with their students to enthuse the next generation of physicists.”

“I feel more in touch with current physics research and I am more invested in keeping up to date with physics news. Discussing the challenges of physics teaching with like-minded peers was very valuable.”

“Both students and staff have mentioned my enthusiasm after the trip. I have signed up for other CPD due to the experience. The time I had with the other physics teachers was also very useful. I would fully recommend a visit to Boulby Mine to any physics teacher. I found the whole thing fascinating.”

The Teacher Network offers regular professional development opportunities, such as this visit, as well as three specialist themes of support for teachers of physics: early career, education research, and leadership in teaching physics.

The Teacher Network is open to all teachers who have been involved in any of the Trust’s programmes. If you believe you are eligible to join the network and are not receiving the mailings, you can sign up online by completing a short survey which can be found here.

If you have any questions about Boulby please email:

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