Team Myonit: An underground x-ray can lead to the discovery of new natural resources

Myonit is creating a monitor that can x-ray bedrock as deep as one kilometer underground. The device, Muon Monitor, aims to improve geological modelling and discover natural resources in a sustainable way, says team leader Timo Enqvist.

“What if there was an x-ray device that worked on a scale a thousand times larger than a regular x-ray and could detect natural resources and geological formations deep underground? This would be a sustainable way of finding, for example, groundwater and metallic deposits in the ground and thus lead to a more equal division of raw materials on Earth.

Our team has come up with Muon Monitor, a device that measures the density variations of rock and surface layers as deep as one kilometer underground. The monitor detects cosmic-ray induced muon particles passing through the soil and underlying bedrock. Cosmic rays are equivalent to high energy radiation and muons are elementary particles similar to electrons.

The aim is to improve geological modelling by receiving information from throughout the bedrock, not only through drill holes. Muon Monitor can be used as an environmentally friendly option for finding orebodies and other raw material resources in the ground. The mining industry is on the rise again and it has many negative environmental effects, such as erosion and the contamination of soil and water. What our monitor does is detect substances with different densities to those of average soil or rock by transilluminating the material. This does no harm to the environment.

At the moment we’re working on the monitor prototype. So far we’ve only tested the device in the laboratory, but soon enough we’ll begin with the test measurements in nature, where the conditions are realistic. We’ve been in contact with mines where the monitor could be used and miners have been very interested in it – far more so than what we expected.

Our team is spread pretty much all around Finland. We’ve known each other for a long time and worked together in different research projects. We have a lot of multidisciplinary knowledge in the fields of geology, particle physics, data-analysis and marketing, just to name a few. What made us participate in Helsinki Challenge was the prize. We need funding in order to take the project forward. The competition is an excellent way to carry on with our work.”

1. Why can your team make the world a better and more sustainable place?

If we can find natural resources like groundwaters and orebodies in an environmentally friendly way, it would definitely make the world a more sustainable place.

2. If you could collaborate with anyone in the world, who would it be?

We’d love to work with companies that do product development or testing because they could help us with our monitor. It would also be inspiring to cooperate with countries that do a lot of mining, such as Australia or Canada.

3. What’s the best thing that has come out of science and research so far?

I’d say electricity, because the world would be paralyzed without it.



Team members:

Timo Enqvist, team leader, research manager, University of Oulu

Marko Aittola, managing director, Muon Solutions Oy

Marko Holma, chief geologist, Muon Solutions Oy

Jari Joutsenvaara, laboratory engineer, University of Oulu

Antto Virkajärvi, hardware design engineer, Lappeenranta Technical University

Panu Jalas, senior researcher, University of Oulu

Kai Loo, postdoctoral researcher, University of Jyväskylä

Pasi Kuusiniemi, senior researcher, University of Oulu