SKY at Boulby Mine: A study of the effect of ionisation on aerosol production in an ultra-low background radiation environment.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Physics and Astronomy


We are seeking support to allow the applicant to play a key role in an important gas-phase physical chemistry study - the first study of the effect of ionisation on aerosol production in an ultra-low background radiation environment.Project Cost: ~26K (FEC) Project Duration: 5 months / starting September/October 2007.Collaborators: Danish National Space Centre (already funded)The effect of ionising radiation and the presence of ionisation on the production of aerosols in air is an important and active area of research in gas-phase physical chemistry with wider relevance in fields such as climatology and public/environmental health. Earlier studies have already shown a positive correlation between ionising radiation intensity and aerosol concentration in air, however no study has been able to examine the relationship at very low ionising radiation levels because of the presence of penetrating cosmic rays. Here we propose the first study of the ionisation / aerosol relation at ultra-low ionisation levels, locating a previously validated experiment (SKY) in the existing deep underground science facility at Boulby mine. At ~1100m deep, the cosmic ray flux at the Boulby facility is attenuated by ~10^6 making it an ideal place to study the properties of matter in ultra-low background radiation conditions. By exposing a controlled volume of air to varying levels of ionising radiation (and with the minimum ionisation level being set by the vastly reduced background radiation) the work will provide both an important validation of earlier studies and extend the studies to ionisation levels at least 3 order of magnitudes lower than tested before, answering important unanswered questions about the roles of ions and the aerosol nucleation / clustering mechanism.If funded the applicant would collaborate on this project with a respected team from the Danish National Space Centre. The majority of funds required for the study are already in place (inc. all equipment, manpower and travel for the Danish collaborators). All that is needed is the funding for the time and travel of the UK applicant during the preparation and operation of the experiment at Boulby mine (~5 months). The unique experience and expertise of the applicant in the background radiation reduction techniques and operational requirements for work at Boulby mine make the applicant a vital collaborator in the study. There is some pressure on timing here / particularly for the Danish team who requested Boulby (rather than a handful of other possible sites around the world) partly for the local expertise (of the applicant) but also because of their wish to make progress on this ASAP. Boulby is perfectly set up to host this study / and with funding to support the applicant efforts we can certainly carry out this work in the time desired. We hope to convince you here that for a relatively small cost this is an excellent opportunity for the UK to play a key role in a fundamental gas-phase physical chemistry study giving an important science output of interest to many.


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Enghoff MB (2008) Evidence for the role of ions in aerosol nucleation. in The journal of physical chemistry. A