UW-River Falls has teamed up with UW-Madison and 38 other institutions to create the world’s largest and most innovative telescope using data from the ice in the South Pole.
“The IceCube project is the biggest and strangest telescope in the world, and we actually use the ice down at the South Pole to look for particles that come from outer space,” said Jim Madsen, physics department chair. “These are really strange particles that can go right through the earth and so we’ve transformed the ice which is almost a mile and a half thick into a telescope that is able to track these particles.”
Madsen has been a part of the IceCube project since he first started working in the physics department at UWRF. He reconnected with a former physics professor at UW-Madison where he went as an undergraduate who invited him to join the project.
“The idea to use the ice as a way to build this kind of strange telescope goes back to the early 1990s,” said Madsen. “Then it took about four to five years to get the funding to build the preliminary prototype detector that took four years after that.”
He went on to explain that the preliminary prototype was finished in 1999-2000 and it took another four years to get funding for the big version and five years to finish it.
He expects that the project will continue for another 15 to 20 years. Madsen has personally been involved with the IceCube project for 14 years, and has been to the South Pole.
According to the press release of the event, IceCube is “a grant-funded project Bringing the Universe to Wisconsin. It is sponsored by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment and spearheaded by the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC).”
This project has impacted quite a number of UWRF students and staff; IceCube has supported over 50 undergraduates on campus.
Two students and four UWRF faculty members in the physics department also had the opportunity to work in the South Pole.
Although physics major Emily Dvorak has not gotten to work in the South Pole, she has had the chance to work on the IceCube project from Wisconsin.
“This summer I worked with Professor Madsen with the IceCube project where we made a large replica, eight foot by eight foot by eight foot display of our IceCube detector down in the South Pole,” said Dvorak.
Dvorak explained that the project is a fundamental science project that improves the understanding of the Universe.
“(It’s) looking for Neutrinos in outer space and where they’re coming from. Neutrinos are a masses particle that we cannot detect so we use the earth as a shield so that the neutrinos will interact with the particle in the Earth and produce a muon,” said Dvorak.
Dvorak explained that the muon produces light and that is what they use the detector in the South Pole for.
Over 5,000 optical modules buried in the ice that are used to detect the light given off of the muons. The IceCube project uses ice from the South Pole because it is clear ice and they get better data.
The WIPAC expressed that the data collected by the IceCube project is already enhancing our view on the Universe and that by sharing their findings and the project with UW-System schools and their communities, it will enhance their knowledge and view of the Universe as well.
Bring the Universe to Wisconsin will be presented to all UW System schools will kick-start in River Falls on Tuesday, Nov. 27 and Wednesday, Nov. 28.
From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, there will be a tour of the updated planetarium at UWRF in which Madsen will be giving a talk about the changes made. From 3 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. there will be a “Meet a Scientist” event held at the Dish and Spoon Café.
Tuesday’s events end with IceCube: “A new View of the Universe from the South Pole” from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the University Center. This will be a hands-on learning experience and a public event about the construction of IceCube and the research it entails.
From 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 28, UWRF and WIPAC researchers will visit elementary, high school and university classrooms before hosting an adult event at Chocolate’s Chocolate Chateau in St. Paul for “Science Pub: A Suds and Spirits Look at the Universe from the South Pole.”