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IceCube telescope wins award

February 14, 2014

Kyle Jero, pictured on the far right, is currently a graduate student at UW-Madison working on the IceCube project. Jero is on the deck of the icebreaker Oden in Antarctica as a UWRF physics student in 2010. (Photo courtesy of James Madsen)
Kyle Jero, pictured on the far right, is currently a graduate student at UW-Madison working on the IceCube project. Jero is on the deck of the icebreaker Oden in Antarctica as a UWRF physics student in 2010. (Photo courtesy of James Madsen)

The UW-River Falls physics department has been involved with research using the IceCube telescope, which was named Physics Breakthrough of the Year for 2013.

The telescope was recognized by the British magazine “Physics World” as a breakthrough in physics because it was the first telescope to detect the neutrino. The neutrino is a particle that has been hard to detect because it has no electric charge. It can pass through normal matter undetected.

Over 50 UWRF undergraduates have been involved with this project. Four physics faculty and three students have also visited Antarctica for research.

Even with the large amount of effort and work that has been contributed to the project, it was not clear until recently that the IceCube telescope would be a success.

The discoveries that have been made are just the beginning. James Madsen, a physics professor at UWRF, said that now that the neutrino has been detected, scientists can now begin to study the particle.

James Madsen working on the project at the South Pole in 2009.
James Madsen, professor and chair of the UWRF physics department and associate
director for education and outreach for Wisconsin IceCube Particle and Astrophysics
Center, working on the project at the South Pole in 2009. (Photo courtesy of James Madsen)

When Madsen found out that the IceCube Project was named breakthrough of the year he said was very excited and quite proud. He has been working on the project for 14 years and has had several different roles. Madsen said the original ideas for the IceCube telescope go back 25 years and several of his colleagues have been working on it for their entire careers.

The project is an international collaboration, with about 275 scientists involved. Madsen attends two annual meetings each year with scientists from all areas of the world and travels to Switzerland. His work as chair of the Speakers Committee has given him the opportunity to travel all over the world to speak about the project.

He addressed the bias some people have about science careers being boring and consisting of only lab work. However, his career has given him a variety of experiences and interactions with people.

Madsen has also traveled to Antarctica twice to work on the project and detect cosmic rays. Due to the complicated mechanics of the process and scarcity of water, it was a long process. He spent entire days trying to detect particles by filling giant tubs full of water, which would then freeze without cracks or bubbles.

Madsen said that his favorite part of the project is the ability to provide an incredible experience for students and teachers.

UWRF is one of only two undergraduate institutions involved with the IceCube Project, since the work is advanced. This presents a rare and valuable opportunity for UWRF physics students, said Madsen.

“The people we work with are the best in the field,” Madsen said.

Physics student Danica Alvarez has been working on the project since May and is grateful for the opportunity it has given her to collaborate with established doctors. Alvarez explained that much of her work is trialand- error.

“You will try something for four days and on the fifth day it will work,” Alvarez said.

Her main responsibilities are to problem-solve and record and study data from the neutrino detector.

She is also going to a conference for the IceCube project in March in Banff, Alberta. She said that the project has given her an opportunity to show her independence and learn additional skills, like new programming languages.