WHITBY and the Cosmos: The Search for Dark Matter will examine the groundbreaking role of the North Yorkshire coastal town in our understanding of the universe.

The exhibition will run at Whitby Museum from February 16 to July 20, in celebration of the donation of the Zeplin III Dark Matter Detector to the museum by Imperial College, London, and is supported by the Royal Society.

It will feature exhibits ranging from 18th-century scientific instruments, used by Captain Cook’s research team during their exploration of the South Seas, to cutting-edge equipment from Boulby Underground Laboratory, north of Whitby, where 21st-century scientists are leading the search for Dark Matter.

The story begins with Captain Cook, whose 1768 voyage was commissioned by the Royal Society of London to map the transit of Venus. This marked a huge step forward in scientific knowledge by allowing astronomers to calculate the distance from the Earth to the sun and to all the other planets.

The exhibition also will shine a light on the work underway at Boulby Underground Laboratory at the working polyhalite mine, ICL Boulby. Over a kilometre below the surface of the Earth, it is the only deep underground science facility in the UK, where studies can be carried out almost entirely free of interference from natural background radiation.

Science projects at Boulby Underground Laboratory range from astrophysics, including the search for Dark Matter, to ultra-low background-material screening, studies of geology and geophysics, climate, the environment and life in extreme environments on Earth and beyond.

The final part of the exhibition focuses on the Zeplin III, until recently employed at Boulby and now installed as the museum’s newest acquisition. Zeplin III contains a xenon chamber to detect Weakly Interactive Massive Particles (WIMPS), which are thought to constitute Dark Matter.

In between, visitors can learn how to become involved in astronomy through the annual Dark Skies Festival, organised by the North York Moors National Park from February 5 to March 3, and through organisations such as the Whitby & District Astronomical Society.

Curator Roger Osborne says: "We are thrilled to have Zeplin III as part of our museum. We aim to use Zeplin and the exhibition to tell visitors about the remarkable and internationally important work taking place at Boulby Underground Laboratory.

“It’s also a great opportunity to highlight Captain Cook’s role as an innovator in scientific exploration, whose work contributed to our current understanding of the universe.”

Henrique Araujo, Professor of Physics at Imperial College, will give a talk on The Search for Dark Matter at the museum on February 15 at 7pm. Doors will open at 6.30pm; this event will include a sneak preview of the exhibition, which forms part of the the Royal Society’s Places of Science scheme.

Professor Araujo leads the British team developing the next generation of LUX-Zeplin experiments, as well as developing radiation-detection instruments for spacecraft. He arranged for the donation of Zeplin III to Whitby Museum.

Entry to the talk is free, but booking is essential at whitbymuseum.org. The museum is open from 9.30am to 4.30pm every day except Mondays.

Charles Hutchinson