Update

What Are They Doing?

A hole drilled for a string of IceCube light detectors. Photo by Casey O'Hara.
A hole drilled for a string of IceCube light detectors. Photo by Casey O'Hara.
How do you find something that isn't directly visible? That's the challenge faced by the team who developed the IceCube neutrino detector under the ice at the South Pole. Just as X-rays allow us to see bone fractures, and MRIs help doctors find damage to soft tissue, neutrinos will reveal new information about the universe that can't be seen directly. The in-ice particle detector at the South Pole records the interactions of neutrinos which are nearly massless sub-atomic messenger particles. Neutrinos are incredibly common (about 100 trillion pass through your body as you read this) subatomic particles that have no electric charge and almost no mass. They are created by radioactive decay and nuclear reactions, such as those in the sun and other stars. Neutrinos rarely react with other particles; in fact, most of them pass through objects (like the earth) without any interaction. This makes them ideal for carrying information from distant parts of the universe, but it also makes them very hard to detect.

All neutrino detectors rely on observing the extremely rare instances when a neutrino does interact with a proton or neutron. This transforms the neutrino into a charged particle of the same type as the neutrino flavor (electron, muon, or tau). Muons are charged particles that can travel for 5-10 miles (8-16 kilometres) through matter depending on their energy, and generate detectable light in translucent media.

IceCube is made up of thousands of sensitive light detectors embedded in a cubic kilometre of ice between 1450 m and 2450 m below surface. The sensors are deployed on strings in the ice holes that were made using a hot water drill. IceCube detects about 100,000 neutrinos a year, and has a projected life time of two decades. The data collected will be used to make a "neutrino map" of the universe and to learn more about astronomical phenomena, like gamma ray bursts, black holes, exploding stars, and other aspects of nuclear and particle physics. However, the true potential of IceCube is discovery; the opening of each new astronomical window leads to unexpected discoveries.

Where Are They?

The IceCube building. Photo by Katey Shirey.
The IceCube building. Photo by Katey Shirey.
The team works at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica—the southernmost continually inhabited place on the planet. The IceCube site is about one kilometer from the South Pole Station, which supplies the necessary logistics of food, power, and shelter. Despite the cold outside, life inside the station is relatively luxurious with comfortable beds, cooked meals, and showers twice a week. The South Pole is reached by plane from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica from the end of October through February, after which time temperatures become too low for planes to operate safely. About 40 people stay there the rest of the year, which is known as wintering over. IceCube has two people dedicated to overseeing the operation of the telescope during this period at the South Pole.

Latest Journals

Want to know what life is like in one of the most extreme and remote location on the earth? Interested in learning what a neutrino is and why IceCube's looking for them? Join me and my students for Antarctica Community Night where you'll get these questions answered and more! Wednesday, April…
McMurdo to Christchurch to Auckland to Los Angeles to Washington D.C. After many adventures crammed into just a few days at McMurdo, it was time to start the long journey home. I hopped on none other than Ivan the Terra Bus. No less terrible than the first ride. I'm barely taller than Ivan…
Antarctic Photography Here at McMurdo I met Dan Pekol, a guy who just got back from the South Pole Traverse. Each summer, tractors make a trip to the South Pole Station from McMurdo Station. Pulled behind them in sleds are resources (mainly fuel) to be delivered. This is a 21,067-mile roundtrip…
Goodbye South Pole We were scheduled to leave the South Pole Friday morning. In true South Pole fashion, our flight was delayed and then cancelled. But, there was another McMurdo-bound flight coming in Friday evening so we were bumped onto that one. We waited around the station in suspense –…
Dates
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Location
South Pole, Antarctica
Project Funded Title
IceCube
Kate Miller - Teacher
Teacher
Washington-Lee High School

Kate grew up a competitive gymnast, but it wasn't until a high school physics class that she could truly make sense of the twists and flips. Her curiosity was sparked as her two passions began to merge. Kate continued to study physics at the University of Michigan, and later earned a Master's of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. Now, Kate helps students explore their own curiosities at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. She looks forward to sharing her Antarctic experiences with her students, hoping to deepen their interest in physics by discussing cutting-edge research about our universe.

Jim Madsen - Researcher
Researcher
University of Wisconsin River Falls

Dr. Madsen is the chair of the Physics Department at UW-River Falls and Associate Director of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory where he directs the education and outreach program. His research interests include heliophysics and astrophysics, which he has studied at his various projects in Antarctica. In addition to research, Dr. Madsen is committed to reaching a broad audience beyond the research community. He is involved in education and outreach for the IceCube project including professional development courses for teachers and science and math instruction for the UWRF Upward Bound Program. He collaborates with a number of programs and institutions in addition to PolarTREC, including the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, UW-River Falls Upward Bound and McNair Programs, and service groups (Rotary International, Boy and Girl Scouts, university alumni associations, etc.). You can read more about Dr. Madsen's work here and here.

"Working in Antarctica is a wonderful adventure, and it is great to provide opportunities for others to have this awesome experience."

Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory 2016 Resources

Video created by PolarTREC teacher Kate Miller on her experience working with researcher Dr. Jim Madsen and other teachers with the Upward Bound Program in July 2017 in Rivers Falls, Wisconsin.

Video
Antarctic
All Aged

Kate Miller & Katey Shirey co-presented at the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Regional Conference in Milwaukee, WI. Our presentation was entitled "Living & Working at the South Pole" and was part of the "Physics Day" set of IceCube-related presentations. About 100 people attended with several questions at the end.

Presentation
Antarctic
Middle School and Up
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Kate Miller co-presents with Jennifer Burgin, a kindergarten teacher who recently went to the Galapagos through the National Geographic Lindblad Expedition Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, at Festival of Minds.

Presentation
Antarctic
All Aged
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Casey O'Hara, Katey Shirey, Liz Ratliff and Kate Miller put together a poster sharing the PolarTREC program, their experiences working with IceCube through PolarTREC, and details on how other teachers can apply. The poster is presented at the Knowles Teacher Initiative (former KSTF) Summer Meeting 2017 to over 300 high school math and science teachers from across the United States.

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Antarctic
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