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Deep cleaning 4,600 feet down...
A science lab almost a mile beneath the earth that simulates the surface of Mars sounds like something out of science fiction. But for Mitie cleaner and lab assistant, Barbara Suckling, the most remarkable thing about her place of work at the Boulby Underground Laboratory in North Yorkshire is the exacting levels of cleanliness required by the scientists who work there.
For over five years Barbara and her Mitie colleague, George Currie, have supported the research of some of the country's most respected geologists, astrophysicists and climate scientists.
Barbara says: "It's important to keep everything very clean because dust can impact the experiments. I mop the floors, wipe the walls, clean the air conditioning units - it's endless! I also assist with visitors and keep everything organised. You might be surprised that scientists can be a messy bunch."
Beyond the doors of the laboratory lies the UK's deepest and busiest mine, where miners extract the rock polyhalite for use in fertiliser, as well as salt. The mine itself has been running for 50 years, while the laboratory opened around 20 years ago, to help scientists undertake research away from the natural radiation found on the Earth's surface.
The dust in the mine can also be radioactive, interfering with experiments - hence why keeping the lab clean is so important.
The mine plays host to a multitude of experiments, including research into dark matter, the mysterious substance believed to make up most of the universe. Often astrobiologists, who are interested in life on Mars, visit to trial their robots in an area known as Mars Yard, which simulates the Red Planet.
"They keep me busy in that part of the lab, where it's more picking up after the scientists and making sure there aren't any large rocks people could trip over," says Barbara.
With a husband and four dogs at home, Barbara admits her house isn't always as immaculate as the lab. However, those who appreciate lab-level cleanliness will be delighted to know there's nothing too outlandish required to reach Boulby's high standards.
6th June 2019