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Michael DuVernois | Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center | USA

View Blog | Read Bio

Greetings from the South Pole

As a new Quantum Diarist, I wanted to introduce myself and my research work. And say hello from the bottom of the world. I am at the South Pole Station working on a new neutrino experiment called ARA, the Askaryan Radio Array.

This project is a second generation effort to look at the the highest-energy (GZK) neutrinos using radio detection of the coherent (Askaryan) emission from showers in dense materials. We’re building at the South Pole to take advantage of the largest block of dense, radio-transparent media on Earth, the 3km thick ice sheet that covers the continent. This is my second summer season at Pole working on ARA, last year we installed an engineering detector that has operated quite successfully throughout the year and now we’re installing the first production detector station. Ultimately we’re aiming for a detector array covering about 100 square kilometers with the antennas capable of detecting signals down to the bedrock below. A truly large detector. It’s much larger, but optimized for higher-energy events, than the IceCube detector completed last summer season at the Pole.

ARA is built on the experiences of the ANITA balloon-borne radio neutrino detector and the ice-drilling and radio spinoff efforts (RICE, AURA, & SATRA) of the IceCube experiment. It’s a small collaboration but with most of the world experience in radio neutrino detection and a significant block of the experience in hot-water drilling down into the ice. The main goal are the so-called GZK neutrinos, neutrinos produced by the interaction of the highest energy (charged particle) cosmic rays with the 3K microwave background radiation. More on all these physics topics in future postings…right now mostly wanting to say hello.

It’s New Year’s Eve at the South Pole. There are about 240 people here at the US South Pole Base, Amundsen-Scott Base, living and working in the new elevated station, or in the many small smaller building around the area. Some folks here are fairly traditional astronomers, working on the 10m South Pole Telescope, others have magnetometers, aurora cameras, seismometers, air sampling gear, and other scientific pursuits. The majority of people at Pole are here in support roles, driving heavy equipment, cooking dinner, washing the dishes, managing the cargo flow, and staffing the communications facility. Tonight there will be four bands performing, followed by a DJ set. We get satellite network a few hours per day and I’ll post this in the morning, in the new year for us.

Physics has gotten me to a lot of interesting places, and this is certainly way up there on that list, though it’s not the first project that had gotten me to Antarctica. I had worked on the CREAM and ANITA balloon experiments, both of which have flown from McMurdo Base on Ross Island just off the coast of Antarctica. (It’s probably close enough to count as Antarctica.) My background is in cosmic rays, I worked on spacecraft isotopic measurements of the cosmic rays while I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. As a postdoc at Penn State, I worked on the HEAT balloon experiment measuring cosmic ray antimatter and the Pierre Auger Observatory in the Argentine grasslands. Later as a professor at the University of Minnesota, I added CREAM (a cosmic ray elemental abundance balloon experiment) and ANITA (the balloon neutrino experiment parent of the current ARA work). Now I am at the University of Wisconsin at Madison working on ARA, IceCube, and the HAWC TeV gamma-ray observatory currently under construction in Mexico. Detectors and their associated hardware are as important to me intellectually as the physics now.

So, greetings from the South Pole, a good place to do physics. And I’m looking forward to sharing my corner of the world of astroparticle physics with you, my dear readers.


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  • Navneeth

    Hello from half-way (more or less) ‘up’ the world. It’s feels wonderful to be able to communicate quickly with researchers at the farthest corners of the world from the comfort of one’s home.

    How long do you have to spend time at the South Pole during a year? And do you still have to be at the camp once the construction of the experiment is completed?

  • Michael DuVernois

    I’m just spending about 6 weeks at the Pole. IceCube does have a pair of winter-over operators for their detector. They stay through the winter when there are no flights in or out (and it’s dark for six months as well!). We’ll get our data remotely, and not have people here during the winter.

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