IceCube In Ice Antarctic Telescope 2012


What Are They Doing?

The building that houses the IceCube projectThe building that houses the IceCube project A large international team of scientists and drilling technicians worked throughout the austral summer to continue testing with the world's largest scientific instrument, the in-ice IceCube Neutrino Detector. Neutrinos are incredibly common (about 10 million 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 on the Sun and other stars. Neutrinos rarely react with other particles or forces; 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 collide with a proton. This collision transforms the neutrino into a muon, a charged particle that can travel for 5-10 miles and generate detectable light.

IceCube is located in Antarctica because the huge amount of dense ice under the South Pole contains many protons that can be hit by passing neutrinos, and the ice is transparent, so the resulting light can be detected by sensors. IceCube is made up of 4200 sensitive light detectors embedded in the ice at depths between 1450 and 2450 meters (4700-8000 feet). The sensors are deployed on "strings" of 60 modules each, into holes 60 cm in diameter in the ice melted using a hot water drill. Encompassing a cubic kilometer of ice, IceCube expands on an existing experiment that started detecting neutrinos at the South Pole in 1997. When IceCube is complete, it may detect up to 300,000 neutrinos a year for up to 20 years.

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 has led to unexpected discoveries.

Where Are They?

View over the South Pole StationView over the South Pole Station The team workied 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. The South Pole is reached by plane from McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica from October through February after which time temperatures are too cold for planes to safely operate. Approximately 50 people stay there the rest of the year, which is known as wintering over. IceCube has two to three people dedicated to overseeing the operation of the telescope during this period at the South Pole.

Expedition Map


ARA37 layout
ARA is going to have 37 stations laid out like this: The planned layout of ARA. Notice that, on the bottom right, the runway and South Pole Station (green/yellow) are marked. It gives a good idea of just how big this array will be. (The diagram shows wind turbines between every 3 stations. Originally, that's how the more remote stations would be powered but, now, it's more likely that there will be power cables running to each station instead.) To get one station up and running, this is what has to happen: The site has to be surveyed and prepared. This means that the site is located...
I got really wrapped up in working and living at the South Pole and I didn't have time to get all of my blogs finished/uploaded. I'm home now though and back into the routine of things, so for the next couple of weeks, I'll be uploading those blogs. Here are some of the topics to look forward to: Deployment of an ARA string Low Tech vs High Tech solutions The Berms Touring the South Pole Station Weather conditions Identifying people Moving from ARA2 to ARA3 The Physical Sciences Lab Upward Bound Also, I'll be writing a journal entry to summarize my experiences and reflect on how this...
A3D6 finished!
When I woke up this morning (in my own house back in South Carolina), I had this waiting in my email for me: A3D6 is finished! This is the last hole at the last station of the season so it's a really momentous occasion. The last hole at ARA3 was drilled today. I can't believe it's only been 19 days since the very first 210 m dry hole ever was drilled. The ARA team has done amazing things this season (13 holes in 19 days!) Good job, guys!
Penguins at the South Pole
To leave the South Pole, there are a few things you have to do. First, bag drag (i.e. pack up your checked luggage and move it to Destination Zulu aka DZ) by 3pm the day before your flight. Then, go take all the pictures you can stand at the geographic and ceremonial South Poles. Penguins hanging out at the South Pole. A special picture for Mary Kate, who loves penguins. Next, say goodbye to all your friends who have to go out into the field to work. A going away present from the ARA drillers. Choked me up. They're a sweet group of guys. Then, go to your room and strip the sheets...
Flying home is a sobering thing. I'm really sad to be leaving. I will miss the work - I love drilling - and I will miss the people terribly. To the drillers (Darrell, Terry, Thomas, Dave, Rob, Jim, and James): Thank you for taking me uder your wings and teaching me to drill. I know you don't want people knowing this but you're the sweetest group of guys and you made me feel so welcome. I will cherish my roll of driller tape, my bracelet, my certificate, and our time together. Thank you for everything. Please keep in touch and think of me if you ever need a new driller. Especially one...

Expedition Resources

Project Information

1 December 2012 to 28 December 2012
Location: Amundson-Scott South Pole Station
Project Funded Title: Amundson-Scott South Pole station

Meet the Team

Liz Ratliff's picture
Gaston Day School
Gastonia, NC
United States

Liz Ratliff started her career as an electrical engineer. After working in the computer industry, she went back to school to become a math teacher. Mrs Ratliff has taught at the middle school and high school level and is currently working at Gaston Day School in Gastonia, North Carolina. Since 2008, Mrs Ratliff has also been a Knowles Science Teaching Foundation fellow. Through this fellowship, she has worked with teachers across the country to develop engaging and effective lessons. In addition, it was at KSTF meeting that she first met the IceCube team. Outside of the academic world, Mrs. Ratliff enjoys learning new things and has spent her life trying out various hobbies including flying, playing bagpipes, learning languages, knitting, fencing, wood carving, etc. She's now working on the difficult and time-consuming (but very rewarding) hobby of raising her two-year old daughter.

Jim Madsen's picture
University of Wisconsin River Falls
River Falls, WI
United States

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."