Amy in Aachen, Summer 2019

By Amy Zingsheim, UWRF undergraduate in Physics who spent the summer with IceCube collaborators in Aachen, Germany

Aachen, Germany Summer 2019

Week 1:

The start of my summer adventures began the moment I stepped into the Minneapolis St. Paul Airport. For some, the idea of traveling via airplane is as natural as shopping for groceries. However, for a person who had never been more than 500 miles from home, everything about airplane travel was completely foreign. I made sure to arrive plenty early to the airport and successfully boarded my first of three flights for the trip. It was while sitting on my second flight for an hour delay before taking off due to bad weather that I realized that the time schedule of airplane travel is highly variable and a 50 minute transfer time is probably never a good idea. My suspicions were confirmed when I missed my third flight, but luckily there was another one just 2 hours later. When I got off my last flight, I was not very confident that my luggage had made it through with me, so when it didn’t show up on the belt, I was not too surprised. I talked to the helpful people at the lost baggage place and gave them the address for where I would be staying for the next 8 weeks (it was successfully delivered just one day later).

Then it was time for me to figure out train travel in Europe. I went up to this sky train place that the people from the lost baggage place said was where I should go to find a train. There was this confusing ticket machine and I ended up having to use my intermediate Spanish knowledge to ask this lady for help. Turns out I had to ride the sky train to the actual train station where I could then get a ticket to Aachen. I got to the train station and acquired a ticket for a train that was leaving in four minutes. I found the right platform and was able to hop on the correct train, although I was not convinced that it was the correct train until I actually arrived in Aachen. I have come to know that a train line name will display the last stop in the line, so I should have been confident I was on the correct train all along since Aachen Hbf was the name on the line.

After successfully arriving in Aachen and checking into my boarding house, I took a short nap before going on a brief tour of the city. By 8pm, I began to feel a little dizzy, so I went to bed and before long it was morning. Besides the dizziness the night before, I didn’t feel any effects from my long trip, so, map in had with a route drawn in pencil, I set out towards the physics buildings of RWTH Aachen University. Now, google maps said it would take me 50 minutes to walk there, but what google maps didn’t account for was the inability of people like me to successfully transfer the paper world into the real one. Long story short, it took me an hour and a half to reach the University the first two days (hey, there were a lot of possible wrong tuns).

That first week, I was introduced to the active base (see featured photo) that I would be running tests with and analyzing data from (the active base is connected to a PMT and waveforms can be produced to see PMT signals). I learned how to solder and only partially accidentally melted one plastic thing. My fellow office mates were friendly enough and would switch over to speaking English whenever they had something to say to me.

 

Week 2:

I started taking measurements with the active base and outlined what I hoped to learn from doing different analyses on the waveforms. On the list was transit time, charge distribution, noise, and pulse amplitude.

My first weekend trip was to a destination I had thought about ever since my father told me about it when I was a little kid. Located in the mountains of the Eifel region sits a town of around 850 inhabitants (according to Wikipedia). ‘What is so special about this town?’ you may ask. Well, it is the town of Zingsheim, which is my last name. It took about 2.5 hours to get there by car and I was not expecting to find anything spectacular in this small town. However, it just so happened that a car show was going on with old cars, tractors, trucks, and a marching band. It was an enjoyable event to experience and the hamburger I ate from the local Zingsheim fire department was splendid. On that trip, I also stopped by a castle and the radio telescope in Effelsberg.

Weeks 3-4:

I worked on doing transit time, pulse amplitude and charge distribution analysis. My next weekend trip was to the city of Cologne (apparently the city name is Köln in German).

I decided to take a bus because that was cheaper than a train, but I didn’t look up where the bus took me in Köln. Turns out the bus took me to the airport, which was in no way close to the city center where I wanted to be. I was still new to this whole traveling thing, so instead of taking a city bus to the city, I decided to walk as far as I could in 3 hours and then turn back. To no surprise, I did not reach the city, but I did see a nice horse farm (but that was about it). I went back a few weeks later via train and had a nice look at the Cathedral and other pretty buildings along the Rhine.

Week 5-6:

I started investigating a repetitive signal I was seeing in the noise of multiple waveforms from the active base. After some persuasion from the Germans, I decided to visit Paris next. I took a high speed train directly to Paris, which only took about 3 hours. My main goal of the trip was to see the Eiffel tower, so after acquiring a city map from the tourist info booth, I set out on foot in what I thought was the right direction.

I had become better at navigating from a map, so I didn’t get too lost; once I found Seine river, it was pretty easy from there. All told, it took about 2.5 hours to walk from the train station to the Eiffel tower. There were a lot of people around the tower, so I only stayed for a little bit before heading back.

Weeks 7-8:

I presented my noise investigation results on a hardware call and it turns out one other group had also been seeing the same thing in the noise. My next travel destination was Brussels. The main attraction for me was to see the Atomium, which I accomplished, including going inside. I also went to the city square and ate some delicious waffles.

At the end of my 8th week, I had to move out of my boarding house because they had already been booked full for my last two weeks in Aachen when I had contacted them. I found a nice Airbnb that was home to two cats to stay at for the last two weeks, so I moved in just fine and had to plot a slightly modified route to the university. I also found out that the Germans named a street after me: Amyastraße (straße means street), which was the street right next to my new quarters.

Week 9:

This week, I have been digging deeper into my transit time analysis while waiting to get a second look at the charge distribution from a different analysis method someone else is doing. I am not planning any more weekend trips, but I will go to Düsseldorf a day before my flight leaves to explore a bit.

Living here in Aachen and traveling around Europe for the past 8 weeks has opened my eyes to life outside the USA. It has been a wonderful experience, but I am looking forward to the comforts of home again soon.

Astrophysics, IceCube, and Building a Muon Detector

by Maddy Boettner, Century College Graduate, and UWRF undergrad in Physics.

The summer has flown by and we now only have two weeks left of the internship! The last eight weeks I have learned so much about particle physics and astrophysics.

I am from Stillwater, MN, which is only about twenty five minutes away from River Falls. Most of the students are from all around the United States. I have been going to school at Century College which is a two year community college. I have decided that I will be attending the University of Wisconsin River Falls this upcoming fall for physics. Growing up I always wanted to understand how the Universe works and I have also always loved astronomy, but I didn’t know that I had any interest in physics at all. When I started college I kept changing my mind and switching my major because I had no idea what I wanted to do, until I accidentally discovered physics. I discovered physics much later than most who go into the field. It wasn’t until after high school and well into college that I started becoming interested in physics and taking classes.

I am very excited to be apart of the REU group this summer. One of my favorite parts was going to Madison for the IceCube bootcamp. It was a great opportunity where we got to learn a lot of physics and computer programming from IceCube professors from all over. Then in the evenings we would all explore Madison together. We ate delicious food and listened to music on the lake.

I believe that I was the only one who started the internship this summer with no computer programming experience. At first this intimidated me but it has been a wonderful experience for me to learn some programming skills this summer and to work with other students who do have previous programming experience. They have helped me out and taught me so much!

My project this summer has been to build a prototype muon particle detector for IceCube Gen2, which would be an expansion of the existing IceCube Neutrino Observatory in the South Pole. Last year a student made a prototype of the detector using optical fibers in a PVC pipe and this year I am using a 55 gallon drum. Inside the drum it is full of water and it has 8 wavelength shifting optical fibers spread out in it.

Here I am feeding optical fibers into a holder, which will be set near a SiPM, a silicon photomultiplier. The black drum contains water, our Cherenkov medium, and the fibers are spread out inside the drum.

When a muon passes through the water it is moving faster than the speed of light in the water which creates an effect known as Cherenkov Radiation. Cherenkov radiation is bluish light emitted in a cone. It is equivalent to a sonic boom but with light instead of sound. When the radiation occurs my fibers absorb the light. The light then travels to the ends of the fibers which are pushed up against a silicon photomultiplier. The Silicon photomultiplier detects the light and then sends a signal to an oscilloscope where we can read the signal. From there I use code in python to sort the the data.

I have been working to build and test a detector that is more cost efficient and potentially easier to move than the current design that IceCube uses. Eventually the rigid drum will be replaced by a flexible container, like a sack that is easy to transport and deploy.

Another Summer of Astrophysics Starts at UWRF

By Grace Zeit (UWRF Undergraduate, featured photo on left.)

It has been several weeks since the start of the program and everyone is already hard at work. We have a wide variety of projects revolving around both IceCube and the South Pole Neutron Monitors(SPNM).  The projects include:  leader fraction analysis on the SPNM (my project), simulating SPNM and factoring in the dead time of the electronics, testing the SPICE model using CDOM flashers, PMT linearity testing ,  modeling Muons from Cascades, characterizing the ICEACT lens, understanding the declining count rate of the SPNM, and understanding the neutron monitor code. The bootcamp is being held later in the summer this year than past years,  so we were all able to start working on our projects within the first week. We settled into a routine pretty quickly; wake up, morning exercise, go to work, eat lunch, work some more, take a break to enjoy some ice-cream, leave work at 5 to get dinner together, rinse and repeat. Most of the researchers this year are keeping to this schedule in some form or another with varying faces in the activities outside of work, as a result we have become fast friends.

Most of the previous weeks have been spent learning different programing languages and understanding the basics of particle physics and beginning our projects.  Many of us are learning new skills and strengthening old ones for our projects. My project in particular requires me to learn how to calculate the leader fraction, understand what the number means, be able to read and understand the data files coming from the South Pole, and program the required calculations in Python.

Left: REU and neutron monitor student is Madison for the boot camp. Right: Amy Zingsheim, Maddy Boettner, and Joseph Jahn. Maddy is assembling optical fibers for her Cherenkov muon detector.

A couple of weeks most of the group journeyed to Madison for the IceCube bootcamp. I however, was still in River Falls since I have attended the bootcamp before. I really enjoyed my week in Madison last year, in particular the end of the week project and the talk by Francis Halzen. This year I was curious as to what my new found friends/co-research students, thought of the experience. Francis Halzen has once again captivated those in attendance with his talk. The presentation on the nature of the various impurities of the ice in the detector and how that affects the DOM readings was another favorite. In their spare time in Madison the students enjoyed the many food choices Madison has to offer and even an open mic night.

Below are some photos of the summer students at work.

Maria del Valle Coello in the Optics Lab with the Fresnel lens from the IceAct telescope. Patrick Sheehan-Klenk working on his GEANT4 code.
Left: Amy with Dr. Waraporn Fhon Nuntiyakul, and Kathryn Grutkoski running code, right..
Kyle Lueckfeld, Rachel Schnell, and Laura Rosen, busy pushing back the frontiers of physics.

South Pole: At Last

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophysics Undergraduate)
Pole day 1
The morning of our last day in McMurdo we decided to venture out again in search of wildlife, and this time were rewarded as we headed to the Observation Hill trail. We could see some open water, and movement in the water, as well as some black dots on the edge of the ice. As we came closer we realized we were watching two whales circling two penguins on the ice. We sat and watched in awe until the penguins slipped back into the water (fortunately, none of them were eaten on our watch).
Penguins vs whales off the Obs’ Hill Trail. The penguins eventually slipped into the water.
Later in the afternoon, we hopped back onto “Ivan” the Terra Bus, and were on our flight to the pole! After a 3 hour flight on the LC-130 with some mixed knitting, reading, and napping, we arrived at the station around 8:00 p.m. Martin, one of the IceCube collaborators at the station, greeted us before our briefing and showed us around so we could get our bearings. The last item of the day, of course, was pictures. We headed out for our first trip into the cold to visit the geographical and ceremonial south poles, as well as the welcome sign for Amundsen-Scott South Pole station, and took in the vast ice around us.
The marker at the geographic South Pole . Each year the new marker is designed and made by the people who “winter over”.
Pole day 2
The morning after we arrived, we got an early start to work. We started the day by meeting with Rob, the winter-over assigned a few ours a week on the neutron monitors, and performing a chip swap on the indoor rack for the neutron monitors. We were tasked with removing the current chip on the master board for the third neutron monitor on the platform, which was swapped a few weeks beforehand, and putting the original chip back in.
Swapping a chip on a “Master” board from the neutron monitor rack at inside the South Pole Station.
Replacing the Master board after chip swap.
Then, we headed out to the platform to swap the remote chip that was inside of the neutron monitor, and get a good look inside the monitors for the first time.
The neutron monitor remotes are on a platform between the South Pole station and the clean air sector. They are proportional counters that respond to neutrons produced in cosmic ray interactions in the atmosphere.
Now, we just had to wait for the remote collaborators to check the data and let us know how it looked. After lunch, we spent the afternoon doing some inventory on the current neutron monitor supplies, which mostly consisted of checking the spare heaters to make sure that they were working. We then spent the evening relaxing and experiencing the station life.
Taking the cover off the remote to access the circuit board.
Pole day 3
Our morning consisted of doing the heater checks out on the neutron monitor platform, so we geared up and walked out again. We brought our some of our spares that we had checked the day before, but thankfully none of the heaters had failed, so we brought our spares back to the lab in the station.
Martin Rongen (IceCube, Aachen Group) helps with closing up a remote after testing the heaters. Three IceCubers came out to see the neutron monitors while we were testing the heaters.
Then, after some lunch, we took a walk out to the IceCube lab to check out the server room and pack up the old IceAct lens that had been removed, which will be used for a student project at River Falls next summer.
Suruj Seunarine inspects the old IceAct lens. We packed it for sending north and it will be used for an REU project in summer 2018.
We also got some great views of the Keck, South Pole Telescope, and BICEP experiments (see featured photo), as well as a look over where the IceCube detector is buried. It was incredible to see the span of the detector that I had spent the summer working on, and the large scale science experiments that are going on at the pole. In the afternoon, I got the opportunity to launch a small meteorology balloon, used to measure how high the cloud ceiling sits. After letting go of the balloon, it is timed to see how long it takes before we can no longer see it, and the cloud height can be extrapolated from this.
Launching a balloon used to determine the height of the clouds.
For the rest of our afternoon, we spent our time in the B2 lab with some of the IceCube collaborators, hanging out and getting some work done. Here are some more photos from the first days at the South Pole.
Suruj, with Pete and Chip at the IceCube Lab.

 

On the roof of the IceCube lab where Martin showed us the IceAct telescope. In the background are SPT, BICEP, and Keck. And, buried 1.5 km below, is IceCube.
The greenhouse, inside the South Pole Station, were you can get away from everything except the 10,000 feet altitude.
Frosty hair.

 

Frosty eyes.

On The Ice, At Last!

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophyics Major)

1/26/18

On the LC-130 flight to McMurdo Station.

Per the usual drill, we woke up for a 5:45 AM shuttle to the CDC, hoping today would be the day we flew. We were bumped off our 9:00 am flight, but given seats on the next flight out at 2:00 pm. After an anxious few hours of waiting, we went through security and were finally on a plane to McMurdo! We flew for around 8 hours on the LC-130 plane.  After about five hours blocks of ice could be seen floating in the sea, after about six hours ice flows and icebergs appeared.

After about five hours flying south, icebergs appeared in the sea.

And short while after we were over the Antarctic continent.

Approaching the continent of Antarctica.

During the flight some of us were invited to the flight deck. We landed and loaded up onto “Ivan” the Terra Bus for a half hour ride into town. We were dropped off at the Chalet for an in-brief and then we collected our checked bags at midnight. Then I promptly turned in for the night after a long day of flying.

1/27/18

The next morning we woke up for a meeting and tour of the Crary Lab, where most of the science offices are housed. In the afternoon, we took a walk down to Hut Point Peninsula, to have a look at Discovery Hut.

Discovery Hut, built by Robert Scott’s expedition in 1902.

The hut was build by Scott in 1902, during the Discovery mission, and was used for shelter on a few later missions. We couldn’t go inside, but we got a good view of the items left outside, including a seal carcass that was still there after all the years, and got a look through the windows. Because a shipping vessel was docked in town, we had to take the long way to the hut, so on our way we searched for some wildlife.

At Hut Point on Ross Island at McMurdo Station.

Our search for penguins was in vain, but we did see some skua and skua chicks. Skua are large, aggressive brown birds, and under protection from the Antarctic treaty, you cannot disturb them in any way (even if they disturb you). This happened to us on our walk as 3 different skua managed to block all our paths down to the hut, and we had to try to creep quietly past without disturbing them. We also saw a few seals, one in the far off distance sleeping, and briefly one in the water near Hut Point. 

1/28/18

Today was our last scheduled day in McMurdo, so after a good night’s rest and some breakfast, we decided to summit Observation Hill.

Observation Hill, our destination for today. Volcanic rocks and sand are everywhere around the station.

After a hike up the rocks, we were privy to incredible views over McMurdo and the ice shelf, as well as a look at Mt. Discovery and Mt. Erebus.

McMurdo Station from Obs Hill.

In the afternoon, we took a shuttle over to Scott Base, the Kiwi Antarctic station a few minutes from McMurdo. We spent some time walking around the store there and admiring the seals sleeping on the ice all around Scott Base. 

 

Still Here: Christchurch and Arthur’s Pass

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophyics Major)

Christchurch day 7

After an early morning ride to the airport, we were informed that we had been bumped from our flight, and headed back to the hotel. After a quick lunch, I made

Kea,, a native New Zealand bird.

my way to the Willowbank Wildlife reserve on the outskirts of Christchurch. The reserve housed many native species to New Zealand, including the famous Kiwi bird, Kea, Tuatara, and a very friendly wallaby.

 

 

 

Day 8

Another delay and another day in New Zealand, so I made my way out to the port town of Lyttelton. After a delicious seafood lunch, I rode the gondola up to the hills that split Lyttelton from Christchurch, and took a walk back down. The ‘Crater Rim Walkway’ offered beautiful views over both Lyttelton and the Canterbury plains.

On the Port Hills between Christchurch and Lyttleton.

Day 9

Today, we hired a car and took a drive to Arthur’s Pass, a National park nestled in the Southern Alps. After a scenic mountain drive and some lunch, we took a short hike to the ‘Devil’s Punchbowl’, a spectacular waterfall coming from one of the peaks.

The scenic West Coast Road to Arthur’s Pass.
West Coast Road, the route to Arthur’s Pass

 

Devil’s Punchbowl, a one hour walk from the visitor’s center.

Stuck in Christchurch

By Lindsay Berkhout (University of Chicago Astronomy and Astrophyics Major)

Christchurch day 3

Our flight to McMurdo was scheduled for 4 p.m, so around 12:45 we got on a shuttle to the airport and packed our things. However, upon arrival, we found out our flight was delayed for 2 hours and then cancelled, so we gathered our boomerang bangs and headed back to the hotel, with our flight rescheduled to 2 days later.

This is as far as we got in the past few days.

I enjoyed the rest of the evening in and then went out for some Thai food on New Regent street.

New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand. Its heritage buildings hold small shops and restaurants.

Christchurch day 4 

We had the day off as there are no flights scheduled out on Saturday, so we took a bus out to  Sumner and enjoyed the nice weather by taking a walk down the beach. I settled down to read for a bit (and sunburnt myself!), and took a little walk around town after heading back. Then, we went out to meet up with some friends of Suruj’s for dinner and a cup of tea. 

On top of Cave Rock with its signal at the end of Sumner beach.

Christchurch day 5 

We woke up to a message telling us our flight was delayed, then cancelled- so I set out to do some more exploring. I was able to take a full tour of the botanic gardens, including the conservatory and the New Zealand gardens, as well as enjoy the local art gallery (and some gelato!) 

Botanic Gardens.

Christchurch day 6

With a morning delay, another delay, a cancellation, and a rescheduling of our flight, we headed to the airport once again, only to be met with another cancellation upon arrival. We returned to our hotel and enjoyed a day off before we try again tomorrow. Meanwhile the city is buzzing with the International Busksers Festival in full swing with street performers showing up many street corners.

Buskers on High Street, Christchurch.

 

 

 

Adventures in undergraduate astrophysics research