Fhon’s Journey: Neutron Monitors in Thailand and at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Hi! I’m Dr. Waraporn “Fhon” Nuntiyakul. I’m a lecturer at Chandrakasem Rajabhat University (CRU). I come from Thailand, where there are not many astrophysicists. Many Thai people still believe in astrology but not astronomy. I want to educate future students to make them think in a scientific way rather than to believe a fortune teller. I have about 10 students are interested in astrophysics research in CRU.

Astrophysics research team at CRU in Bangkok, Thailand.
Astrophysics research team at CRU in Bangkok, Thailand. This photo shows five students of the ten students. From left to right: Ya, June, Beer, Mud and Juy. Ya and June are the second year undergraduate students, Beer and Juy are the fifth year undergraduate students and Mud (only one male in our group) is the first year undergraduate student.

This summer is really a special summer for me. I have a chance to visit to University of Wisconsin River Falls in the US to give some talks about my research. I work in astrophysics field, studying cosmic rays. We have a detector called a neutron monitor in Thailand. Thailand is a special location, where it has the highest cutoff rigidity in the world, which means only particles that have high energy can enter the atmosphere. I focus my studies on the Galactic cosmic rays (GCR), the which are influenced by solar activity as they arrive at the Earth. When we are in solar maximum there are less GCR and vice versa when we are in solar minimum, less activities, there are more GCR. So by studying this we can learn about our Sun.

The inside of the Princess Sirindhorn Neutron Monitor station at Doi Inthanon, Chiang Mai, Thailand. One slab of polyethylene reflector has been removed in order to show the lead producer inside. At the far end of the station, one of the three bare counters is visible.

When I first came to River Falls in summer, I thought that I only have to give only seminars, I didn’t expect to supervise students’ project. It turns out to be very impressive. I love that students always want to learn, they want to know things and the most important thing, they never give up. When they did something wrong and have to do the whole thing again, they are willing to do it. I think this spirit is important, seek to learn, seek to know no matter how hard work they may encounter, they still want to learn. I also learn from them because every week these students have to present their work to progress report and to share some knowledge they did with the others. Especially, in my relevant work, I learn more when I supervise Laura and Kyle (photo below). They always come up with many questions to ask me. We learn together during the progress of their work. Seeing their development makes me happy.

The neutron monitor and the bare at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls (UWRF). Fhon is the right of the photo. Two undergraduate students, Laura Moon and Kyle Lueckfeld, are interested ine working on particle transport simulation using Monte Carlo (Fluka) methods. Both of them are simulating particles detected by the neutron monitor (left detector), covered with white polyethylene reflector, and bare monitor (right detector), covered with wood box.
The neutron monitor and the bare at UWRF (cont). From left to right: Joe, Prof. James “Jim” Madsen, Nick, Kyle, Vanessa, Kim, Nick, Kevin, Hanna, Fhon, Sam, Justin, Laura who share research experiences together in the summer.
The neutron monitor and the bare at UWRF (cont). Fhon is the middle. The left and right position are Samantha and Robert who also are in our group in this summer.

I will use my experience in this summer to teach my students in Thailand. I want to thank Prof. James “Jim” Madsen and Assist. Prof. Suruj Seunarine for giving me a chance to come here and taking care of me while I live in River Falls. Thank you Prof. Paul Evenson for introducing me to Jim. Paul is both my former Ph.D international co-advisor and a father-like figure to me. I want to thank my Ph.D advisor, Prof. David “Dave” Ruffolo, who is my role model for being a good teacher and good researcher.  I want to thank Dr. Alejandro Saiz “Alex” Rivera, Dr. Achara “Kim” Seripienlert and Dr. Pierre-Simon Mangeard for your brilliant comments and suggestions to get the wonderful project.

Paul was giving a talk of the electronic workshop in Bangkok, Thailand. He gave a similar talk to the summer undergraduates at UWRF.
Cosmic Ray Research Meeting in Mahidol university, Thailand.
Left row from front to back: Dr. Zhu Fengrong, Dr. Paisan Tooprakai, Fhon, Pierre-Simon, Alex and Dave Middle row: Kim Right row from front to back: Aey, Art, Bus, three international students from high school, Dr. Warit Mitthumsiri

Maggie and Quincy in Mainz, Germany

Quincy and I are over half way through with our European adventure. I can’t believe how quickly time has gone by. Centered in Mainz, Quincy and I are working with the IceCube group at the Johannes Gutenberg University.


My project focuses on the hardware aspects for a future part of the IceCube detector called PINGU. Searching for low energy atmospheric neutrinos, PINGU aims to determine the neutrino mass hierarchy. To design the new part of the detector, new optical modules to detect light, called Wavelength-Shifter Optical Modules (WOMs) are being studied. Unfortunately. The WOMS have an increase in noise at cooler temperatures. One hypothesis is that there is a decay of potassium in the glass creating photons, which creates a the signal noise. At colder temperatures, there are fewer vibrations in the WOM, making the photon more likely to successfully create a signal to be detected by the photomultiplier of the WOM.

Initially, I built a circuit with temperature probes to verify the temperature of the environment I am running my tests in. Now, I am attempting excite the glass of the WOMs using  ultraviolet light to observe whether or not there is more light at colder temperatures.


The Precision IceCube Next Generation Upgrade (PINGU) is designed primarily to detect low energy neutrinos on the order of about 1 GeV. Neutrinos at low energies are useful for resolving the Neutrino Mass Hierarchy (NMH), a prediction about mass differences between neutrino flavors. There are three neutrino flavors, and three mass states associated with these flavors. We know the difference in mass between two of the three neutrino mass states, but it’s unclear if the third mass states belongs below or above the two known mass states. We refer to these two mass state possibilities as normal NMH and inverted NMH.

I am working on producing cosmic ray flux simulations on the order of about 1 GeV. Neutrino flux on Earth appears to be isotropic on average, and this enables us to predict expected electron, muon and tau neutrino event rates at the IceCube detector. The first step is to generate a expected event rate, based on theory, as a function of cosine zenith angle and energy. Next, this theoretical event rate must be smeared to account for uncertainties in the detector hardware. I’m working on this smearing phase of the reconstruction.

We will produce two sets of simulated data which represent normal NMH and inverted NMH. When the PINGU detector hardware is installed and data are collected, we can compare the experimental results with these simulations. Over the course about 5 years of PINGU operation, we will be able to make a claim about the relative differences in neutrino mass states. We expect the experimental observation to align with either the normal NMH simulation or the inverted NMH simulation. This result will allow us to know the mass of each neutrino flavor, resolving one of the few remaining unknowns about relative particle mass in the standard model.

Dying from the heat…I was almost 40 C!
Quincy (left): Dying from the heat…It was almost 40 C!


The past weekend we spent exploring Munich. Attempting to escape the heat (the hottest weekend recorded in German history!) we spent our days jumping into a river running through the English Gardens, enjoying the Bavarian culture (think lederhosen…) and exploring the many museums Munich has to offer. We brought another summer student from America with us and met up with my friend from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, too. After a weekend well spent, we returned home for more fun in the lab!


Maggie and Quincy


Editor’s note: Maggie Beheler-Amass is an undergraduate at the University of Wisconson-Madison. Quincy Wofford III is an undergraduate at the University of Kansas. They are Mainz, Germany undertaking IceCube research under and NSF, IRES program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

Boot Camp 2015

On June 7th the students, together with Fhon, Suruj, and a fish, set out to Madison for the IceCube software boot camp.   Boot camp is a week long intense introduction to IceCube, Neutrino Astrophysics, python, C++, and the IceCube software and data files framework. It’s designed to get new ‘cubers up to speed on all aspects of IceCube physics, simulation, and analysis software. The boot camp organizers at 222 spent a lot of time preparing lectures and exercises for the campers, and a lot of resources were provided that could be used as references and templates when the campers returned to their home institutions.  At boot camp one gets a good feel for the scope and impact of IceCube on the particle astrophysics community, and  an appreciation of how amazingly helpful everyone in IceCube is to those just starting with IceCube.


There was no shortage of good snacks and drinks during the breaks! The sessions ran from 9 am to 6 pm each day and the boot camp leaders managed to keep everyone engaged all the time ( a testament to their good work in preparing the material for the camp and the general geeky and nerdy nature of the ‘campers themselves).

On the last day of the boot camp, teams worked on projects and made presentations at the end of the day.

Kyle, Laura, Nick #1  and Nick #1 explain the linefit project they wrote for their project.
Kyle, Laura, Nick #1 and Nick #1 explain the linefit project they wrote for their project.
Hanna, Samantha, Kevin, and Robert explaining Igel Fit and what it has to do with Hedgehogs.
Hanna, Robert, Kevin, and Samantha explaining their implementation of Igel Fit and what it has to do with Hedgehogs.
Vanessa explaining her team's implementation of the HESE veto.
Vanessa explaining her team’s implementation of the HESE veto.

Students had earlier spent  all morning and part of the afternoon working  on their projects, with one IceCube expert assigned to each team.

Igel Fit team, taking their project very seriously.
Igel Fit team, taking their project very seriously.


Finding humor in the HESE veto project.
Finding humor in the HESE veto project.


Linefit team with HESE team in background.
Linefit team with HESE team in background.

Laura and Kelsey in Germany

Editors Note: Laura’s and Kelsey’s first week in Germany was in the first week of June

Hello all!

Kelsey and I have had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Deutschland and spend 10 weeks continuing our work with the IceCube project. I can’t believe that we’ve already been here for a week, so much has happened so far!

The flight overseas was 8 hours long. We flew into Düsseldorf on Thursday morning and then had a 45 minute car ride back to Bochum. It’s beautiful here! We met Sebastian, one of the grad students who we will be working with. He showed us around campus and helped us figure out where we were going. On Friday we met everyone else who we would be working with. It was the university’s 50th anniversary celebration that weekend, so no work was being done. Saturday was the “Blau Pause”. They closed the entire University Street for 5 km so that pedestrians and cyclists could wander amongst all of the tables, tents, and stands.

Kelsey in downtown Bochum.
Kelsey in downtown Bochum.

Come Monday, we had our first official day of work. Fabian and Sebastian, two grad students who we will work with told us a little about each of their projects and we were able to choose which one we preferred. Sebastian and Kelsey are working on neutrino propagation in the Earth and Fabian and I are working on the Sun shadow analysis.

So far, we’ve just been adjusting to life here in Germany and getting used to our projects. We’ve done a little exploring around Bochum. It’s a lovely city and much larger than I first thought. The weather has also been beautiful, which makes it even better. This was just our first week, so I’m excited to see what amazing adventures the next 9 weeks have in store for us!


Summer 2015 Undergraduate Astrophysics Research Starts at UWRF

It’s summer again and thirteen students are here for astrophysics research. Six of them are NSF REU students, and with the others they will work on projects on IceCube and the neutron monitors at McMurdo and Antarctica. Two from this large summer group will go to Antarctica this year. Week 1 was spent at UWRF where students got a quick fire introduction to computer programming, neutrino astrophysics, and neutron monitors. This summer we have a visiting faculty, Dr. Waraporn “Fhon” Nuntiyakul, from Chandrakasem Rajabhat University in Thailand. Fhon’s research is on neutron monitors. Each Monday students will participate in professional development workshops with other summer scholars on campus. This week we also got some lead and polyethylene from Delaware, which we will use with the neutron monitors. Here are some photos from the first week. Next week is Boot Camp in Madison!

Nick K, Samanthan, Nick J, and Kevin (front), writing code.
Joe, Nick K, Samantha, Nick J, and (front row) Kevin and Kyle, writing code.
Kim,  Sam, Hanna, and (front row) Laura, Justin writing code.
Kim, Sam, Hanna, and (front row) Laura, Justin writing code.
Robert and Vanessa (front row) hacking away at code.
Robert and Vanessa (front row) hacking away at code.
Fohn gives a seminar on neutron monitors in Thailand.
Fhon gives a seminar on neutron monitors in Thailand.
Talking over moving 200 lb blocks of lead.
Talking over moving 200 lb blocks of lead.
Waiting for help?
Waiting for help?
Carefully placing a lead ring in lab.
Carefully placing a lead ring in lab.
Sam and Vanessa at UWRF running the cDOM simulations remotely  on the GPU machine in Madison.
Sam and Vanessa at UWRF running the cDOM simulations remotely on the GPU machine in Madison.
Moving lead again, building our neutron monitor.
Moving lead again, building our neutron monitor.


And now, off to boot camp!!

Observations About McMurdo Station


The past few days have been quite busy with working at CosRay disassembling the enclosures of the Neutron Monitors. We moved 10 tons of lead, twice! In the beginning we needed the lead to be out of the way so that we would be able to work and cut the platform that we needed to down to size. After we got that all configured we were able to begin moving items into crates to be shipped off to a Korean base in Antarctica. The Neutron Monitors here in McMurdo is one of the oldest experiments running in Antarctica. So working on this project has been quite unique.

The lead was a little trick to move as each yoke of lead weighed over 200 pounds! However, we worked with the carpenters here and they were able to design a specially built ramp to make the moving of the lead into the crates much easier, and more efficient. We worked in a team of five to move all this lead into crates and then into a container. Four of us would load the crate full of six yokes of lead and then the forklift operator was able to get each of these pallets out of the building.

After a long day’s work we got to see some of the beautiful sights here. We hiked up a mountain known as Observation Hill(featured image above)  which has an absolutely gorgeous view. Not only did we climb up a mountain and get to look at the view down, but we also were able to go underneath the ice in something called an Observation tube, we were able to see thousands of tiny fish swimming around outside, along with some Jellyfish. If you listened close you could hear the sounds of creatures making high pitched noises.

Observation tube in frozen sea-ice shelf
Observation tube in frozen sea-ice shelf


Not only are the sights amazing, but the people that you meet here are probably some of the most interesting people around. As you talk to these people you can see the passion that they have for their science, the discoveries that they’ve made. If you think you’ve done some interesting things all you have to do is talk to someone here and you will see how truly amazing people can be.


A Week at McMurdo

Hello from Antarctica!

We arrived in McMurdo on Wednesday of last week, it took about a 5 hour plane trip but we finally landed on the ice. The first day was more relaxed, as we settled in. Shortly after that though we began to work, the next day we had a meeting with some support to help us get our project moving.

Over the past few days we have been taking trips out to CosRay, this is building the Neutron Monitors are kept. It’s a little walk away from the base, but the view from walking is pretty amazing. At CosRay there are three sections of Neutron Monitors, our mission is to dissemble one of these sections and change the shape and dimensions of the platform that it stands on in order to move this to a Korean Station.

As we started we began disconnecting and disassembling the entire platform, and removed the monitors. This took a lot of work as there was 10 tons of lead that had to be moved. After all the heavy lifting we began planning a new configuration for the section as it had to now fit into a shipping container. Using a three dimensional drawing software we were able to plan what we needed. Today we began to implement the plan, and started doing the actual cutting of the platform. So far we are off to a very good start on our project. Tomorrow we will be configuring the insolation size, as well as a few other odds and ends.


Adventures in undergraduate astrophysics research


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