Category Archives: IceCube

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.

2017 Summer Astrophysics Research at UWRF: Boot Camp in Madison

 2017 Summer Astrophysics Research Interns at WIPAC: Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center in Madison. Back row from left: Begad Elmelligy (Normandale/UWRF),  Jacob Hanson-Flores(UWRF), Dylan Frikken(UWRF), Mason Austin(Marquette), Julio Estrada(Rio Hondo Community College), Suruj Seunarine (UWRF). Front row from left: Madeleine Hanley (Colorado School of Mines), Grace Zeit (UWRF), Quang Phung (Normandale Community College),  Megan Kimbro(Old Dominion)

By Jacob Hanson-Flores: UWRF Undergraduate

Today, June 5th, was the first day of the 2017 Ice Cube Boot Camp here in Madison, WI. We made our departure from River Falls campus mid-day on Sunday, June 4th, and drove straight through (aside from a quick stop at Culvers). We arrived here in Madison around mid-afternoon. This is only my third time here in Madison and for many of the students in our group, it is a first. The weather yesterday was warm and sunny, which only heightened our ever-growing excitement/curiosity in our unfamiliar surroundings. Everyone unloaded and checked into the dorms quickly, then immediately set out to tour the beautiful campus. Dylan and I began our journey on the trail that encompasses the lake directly behind our dorms, and eventually moseying our way down to State Street. There we spent the remainder of the afternoon popping in and out of interesting shops and finished it off at one of the local sports bars where we ate some delicious food and enjoyed the basketball game.

This morning I woke up bright and early with an overwhelming sense of anticipation for the day ahead of me. Prior to arriving I spoke with some of my peers who attended the boot camp, but I was still unsure of what to expect. I made my way over to the WIPAC building with a group of students from Marquette. Walking into the building we were greeted by students and faculty who appeared equally animated for the day. Boot camp began promptly at 9 am with a brief introduction to Ice Cube, followed by a more in-depth overview by Francis Halzen (AKA Neutrino Man). The way that Francis spoke sparked the room with an undeniable feeling of awe and inspiration.

We spent the next hour covering the principles of astrophysical and atmospheric neutrinos that Ice Cube was built upon. We then took a short coffee break and jumped right into working with the Ice Tray framework. Things moved along quickly and within a few short hours we covered everything from viewing simulations of neutrino events and reading data with python. For lunch, some of the group opted to walk around the Capitol building with Dr. Seunarine. In the meantime, I was able to sniff my way to an adjacent street with a handful of food trucks positioned along the sidewalk.

The day was concluded with a talk from Prof. Williams giving us a detailed introduction to the calibration LED ‘flashers’ that are on each IceCube DOM. Her presentation accentuated the unbelievable amount of thought and purpose that went into the construction of the Ice Cube detector. She went into detail about how the flashers are used to test the calibration and response of the DOMs. Moreover, the flashers are even used to study the optical properties of the ice itself. Several summer interns will work with the so-called ‘flasher’ data in their projects.

Sunset at Lake Mendota, Madison WI. Photo by Jacob-Hanson Flores

After making the trip back to campus to drop off our bags we made our way over to the terrace on the lake to unwind with our fellow boot campers after a long day. On our trek back to the dorms we even managed to catch an immaculate display of the sun setting over Lake Mendota. Needless to say, I am excited to soak up as much information as I can throughout the upcoming week and make some new connections along the way.

A Summer of Astrophysics and Getting Married

Featured Photo:  2016 REUs Mykalin Jones, Megan Davis, Kristine (Skul) Romich, and Lorena Mezini

What a summer it’s been! I’m back in Chicago and about to head into my final semester of community college, after which I’ll be transferring to a four-year institution to complete my bachelor’s degree in physics. I’d like to take a few moments to share some highlights from my ten weeks of neutrino astrophysics internship at UW-River Falls.

First, an introduction. My name is Kristine, and I’m a student at the City Colleges of Chicago (a network of seven community colleges serving residents of Chicago proper). My story is a bit different from most of my colleagues’: although I’ve been fascinated by physics and astronomy for as long as I can remember, it wasn’t until I was in my 20s — with two prior degrees in the liberal arts — that I chose to pursue a career in it.

I graduated from Loyola University Chicago in 2012 with bachelor’s degrees in communication studies and psychology. I also spent a semester in graduate school for applied social psychology. After withdrawing from my graduate program, I worked a string of temp jobs and had a brief stint as an administrative assistant at a corporate office; eventually, I made the decision to go back to school and study physics.

Majoring in the natural sciences gave me a sense of purpose I never got from psychology. (That’s not to say psychology doesn’t have value — it just means it wasn’t for me.) I made a point of getting to know faculty members and asking them what I could do to maximize my chances for success. They all said the same thing: research.

I learned that there are special internships, called Research Experiences for Undergraduates, that allow college students to participate in original research in various STEM disciplines. I found out about the opportunity at UWRF just two weeks before the application deadline. Thanks largely to a fantastic professor who wrote me a recommendation on only a few days’ notice, I managed to
submit my materials on time. Four months later, I arrived in River Falls.

I once asked Suruj why I had been selected. He told me he pulled my name from a hat. For a second I almost believed him.

My project involved using the photon-propagation code CLSim to compare two existing ice models and identify discrepancies between flasher simulations and real data. As one might expect, it required a great deal of computer programming. I worked on a team with two other REU students, Roman and Lorena — both of whom had considerably more programming experience than me. Actually, just about everyone had more programming experience than me. During the Python crash course Suruj gave the first week, I accidentally created two infinite loops.

My lack of familiarity with coding made the first month at UWRF difficult. The only thing I’d ever programmed before was a Raspberry Pi camera, and that was using a script somebody else had
written. My colleagues, meanwhile, were writing original code to perform far more complex operations. More than once, I found myself questioning whether I have what it takes to become an

Thankfully Suruj, Dr. Madsen, and Dr. McCann reassured me that my programming skills would improve as the summer progressed. By July, I had gotten a lot better at making computers do what
I wanted them to. I spent the second half of the internship analyzing waveforms — charge- weighted time distributions used to compare the timing of light propagation between simulations
and real data. At one point, I identified an error in an existing code that solved a significant technical issue my team had been having. I also built a wiki page to document our procedure and

When we weren’t working in the lab (or in a coffee shop, as was often the case with me), my fellow REU students and I had a chance to explore River Falls and the rest of the Twin Cities
metropolitan area. We visited the Mall of America, watched fireworks in Stillwater on the Fourth of July, and did science demonstrations for the public at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair. Roman
and I had our cars with us, which helped a lot.

Fireworks in Stillwater, MN on the Fourth of July.
Demonstrating the Magdeburg sphere at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.
Demonstrating the Magdeburg sphere at the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.

I couldn’t have asked for a better assortment of colleagues. Despite our differences in age and background (half from community colleges and half from research universities), I’d like to think we got along . . .

I got married during the final week of the internship, and my REU group came to my wedding. (Yes, that’s the right-hand rule).

Nerd-ing off with the right hand rule at my wedding. REUs Chris Patenaude and Roman Gradford are in the back row, left and right respectively.


By Jack Nuclkes: UW-Madison Undergraduate who is on an IRES Neutrino Astrophysics Internship in Sweden in Summer 2016.

Four days after returning from Switzerland, we again packed our backpacks and began our trip to Norway.  After our long haul to the Alps, we were all glad that we only had a mere 30 hours on trains planned for the weekend.


By Friday morning, we reached Bergen, a city on the west coast of Norway.  We then headed back east to Voss (the town that is the namesake for the “artesian” water brand) to meet a bus that took us down an 18%-grade road to Gudvangen, where we boarded a boat for an unbelievably beautiful cruise through the Nærøyfjord.  We had read that this deep, narrow fjord offers some of the best scenery anywhere in the world, and it certainly delivered.  Two hours later, the boat deposited us in Flåm. The world-famous Flamsbana train then took us by waterfalls and through hand-dug tunnels from sea level to Myrdal at 3,000 feet. One more train brought us back to Bergen. We spent the evening strolling through the fish market and exploring a fortress before getting on the night train to Oslo.


We arrived in the Norwegian capital before the city really woke up, so for two hours we had the streets to ourselves.  Throughout the day, we saw the obligatory sights, including the modern opera house, a tour of the city hall (where we learned so much we were half expecting to get a diploma before we left), and a walk through a large sculpture park.  By the afternoon, we were all out of granola and PB&J supplies, so Nick K. grabbed what he said was a delicious barbecue-flavored hot dog, suspiciously on sale, from one of the many 7-Elevens in the city.  Shortly after, we caught the train back to Stockholm, concluding another great weekend trip.


Busy Summer 2016 at UWRF

One month has gone by and this is our first post for summer 2016. We have been very busy getting; first with and intense first week settling into River Falls, getting paperwork done, learning python programming, particle physics, neutrino astrophysics and exploring many aspects of IceCube. This summer we have six REU students from all over the US. They are Megan Davis (MSU), Kristine Skul (Chicago City Colleges), Lorena Mezini (Stony Brook U), Roman Gradford (Normanale College, MN), Mykalin Jones (WPI), and Chris Patenaude(Clatsop College, Oregon). They are joined by five UWRF students; Alex Haas, Marium Asif, Dylan Frikken, Joseph Wagner, and Mitch Ahlswede. All student are working on projects either on the IceCube Netutrino Observatory or on the Neutron Monitors at UWRF and the South Pole. Fhon is also visiting from Thailand for the summer.

Megan Davis arrived first, a few days early so she could get an early start on her project. She and Chris are working with Dr. McCann. They are looking at the properties of optical fibres that can be used as light sensors for the next generation of IceCube, IceCube-Gen2.

Megan Davis and mentor Dr. Lowell McCann outside Centennial Science Hall at UWRF.
Megan Davis and mentor Dr. Lowell McCann outside Centennial Science Hall at UWRF.

Everyone else

arrived in the a few days later.  As usual, the first thing we do is a week of prep for the IceCube bootcamp. After the first week of bootcamp prep we headed off on the usual trip across the state to Madison. The road trip is always a time when we get to know each other a bit better and  a chance for REUs to see a little more of Wisconsin.

The bootcamp was organized a bit different this year. It started on Saturday with a two day pre-bootcamp, followed by two days of beginner and three days of advanced bootcamp. We stayed for the first four days. This belated first post ends here but stay tuned for more frequent posts in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, here are some photos from the first weeks.

UWRF interns at WIPAC in Madison: Back row from left: Roman Gradford, Mitch Ahlswede, Chirs Patenaude, Megan Davis. Front row: Suruj Seunarine, Alex Haas, Mykalin Jones, Lorena Mezini, Kristine Skul
In the Lab
Our “Lab” mostly contains computers and a massive chalk board. Mitch, Alex, Marium, and Dylan (our UWRF students) get an early start on their projects.
Fhon seminar
Fhon at UWRF gives a seminar presentation on neutron monitors.
At the bootcamp in Madison, REU students took the first row. From left: Mykalin, Lorena, Kristine, Megan, Chris, Roman.
Joe working on the muon taggers.
Joe working on the muon taggers. The two upper scintillators are shielded by lead.
Back at UWRF, throwing boomerangs.
Back at UWRF, throwing boomerangs.
Boomerang in tree.
Boomerang in tree: Dylan Miller heroically volunteers …
Boomerang retrieved.
Boomerang retrieved,  now  …
Mykalin and Roman write code.
Mykalin and Roman write code.


Couch Surfing at the South Pole

By Laura Moon Parmeter (UWRF Undergraduate)

It’s so hard to write this blog post because it’s impossible to describe the feeling you get being at the Pole. The South Pole has been one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. Even with it being -40 wind-chill! Everyone is so nice and has the same adventurous attitude! There are only about 150 people, which is max capacity for the station. Just passing people walking down the hall everyone has a smile on their face and is so friendly. Because of the small space that we work in there is always people to talk to. Everyone hangs out at the end of the day in the game room lounge. Doesn’t matter what your job title is, firefighter, scientist/grantee, mechanical engineer, cook, etc, all hang out together. You get to meet some amazing people!

Image reflected in ceremonial South Pole marker.
Image reflected in ceremonial South Pole marker.
South Pole Station.
Amundsen-Scott station

We actually arrived to the pole on the day we were scheduled to!! With it being above 9000 feet the sudden altitude change made things difficult. Just walking up the stairs made you winded. So the first day we took it easy and just wandered around the station getting acclimated. This station is newer than McMurdo and has so many accommodations. There’s a gym and a workout center, two movie rooms (so full of movies I don’t think I could watch them all even if I wintered over), a music room, game room (with a pool table, dart board, and foosball table), a greenhouse, quite reading room (with a ton of books!), a science lab, and a sauna!

The green house growing lights and my camera did not get along
The green house growing lights and my camera did not get along

The food at the Pole is so much better than the food at McMurdo! The first day we arrived there were raspberry blondie brownies made by a lady who owners her own bakery back in the states. Another day we got filet mignon and crab legs! They even have fresh apples and oranges. I never thought I would eat so well in a cafeteria.

We were only scheduled to be at the South Pole for 5 days, so the next day we got to work! We wandered out to the IceCube lab (ICL) to set up the muon tagger equipment. We also checked out the neutron monitors, some bare inside the science lab, others fully covered and insulated sitting outside.

After getting most of our work done we changed gears a bit. We helped with the artists and writers program. Two artists want to recreate some historic photos from Antarctica, but because room space in limited at the Pole they were unable to come. So we got a GoPro camera from them and a Scott tent from the station. The tent was just a little too tall so we had to dig a trench and bury it about 3 feet. Part of the reenactment of the photos was to do interviews of the people participating. While Dr. Madsen and Robert were outside in the cold filming people, I was inside in the warmth of the station doing the interviews. This gave me the opportunity to get to know a lot of people very fast.

Digging the trench for the tent
Digging the trench for the tent
One of my favorite groups reenacting a famous photo. These men are all firefighters and amazing characters to hang around with
One of my favorite groups reenacting a famous photo. These men are all firefighters and amazing characters to hang around with

Before we knew it the five days were up. Our flight was scheduled to leave on Monday. Normally we need to check in our bags the day before (called “bag drag” because you literally have to drag your bag to the check in spot). But because we were leaving on Monday we had to bag drag on Saturday because on Sunday they weren’t working. We are allowed one carry-on bag to keep with us, but it has size restrictions. So the key is to try and balance how many clothes to bring but still keeping in light. The problem is you never really know when you’re leaving.

At the Pole the flights are done a little differently. First a flight will come in and drop off people and cargo. They won’t even shut of the engines before they start loading it with new cargo and people leaving the pole. They’re only on the ground for maybe an hour if everything goes as planned. So our flight came in at 11:30 pm and we all got on the plane at 12:30 am. We flew for about 45 min before they decided the weather was too bad in McMurdo so we had to turn around (what was surprising to me was that the weather was hardly ever bad at the south pole, always sunny and very little wind). We got back to the pole and had a 2 hour window were, if the weather cleared,  we would still take off. So we waited around till 3:30 am before they finally decide to call it a day. They shut off the plane’s engines… This could be bad… very very bad…! Once you shut off the engines it’s very hard to get them started again. It’s just too cold at the Pole. Also once they shut down the plane their navigation systems start to act funny and they can’t fly unless they have perfect weather conditions.

Needless to say we were stuck at the Pole until Friday. With weather delays and problems with the skyway our 5 day trip turned into 10 days. Before the boomerang flight I was ready to go. Five days were long enough for me and I was starting to get home sick. But by the end of the five extra days at the pole I didn’t want to leave!!! After we boomeranged and got back to the station our rooms were already given away. And now the station was over max capacity with 177 people. They had no more rooms for us. So they set up 10 beds in the gym. The flight crew slept in one of the movie rooms on the couches while other people found couches in the other lounges. I had the time of my life! Couch surfing pro!!!

SpiceCore, 50,000 year old ice!
SpiceCore, 50,000 year old ice!

With this extra time we got to tour a few things. We went and saw SpiceCore. We were lucky enough to show up right as they were bringing up a core. The ice was 50,000 years ago! We also got to launch a weather balloon. We got pretty friendly with the weather man Oregano who brought us frequent weather updates. We got a tour of the South Pole Telescope and also got to see the ice tunnels were the piping for the station is ran. The tunnels were really cold, about -50. At the end of that tour we got to climb a 30 foot ladder to get out of the tunnels. That was a little scary considering we just spend an hour in freezing temperatures and my hands were starting to go numb.

I got to let go of the weather balloon!
I got to let go of the weather balloon!


30 foot ladder we had to climb to get out of the tunnels (see Robert's post below)
30 foot ladder we had to climb to get out of the tunnels (see Robert’s post below)

We got back to McMurdo and spent a few more days doing some work at Cos-Ray. We got to go inside discovery hut, which you’re only allowed to do with a guide.


Robert Zill at the South Pole

By Robert Zill

We made it to the South Pole! After all the troubles we’ve had up to this point with flights getting down here, it was a relief to make it to the Pole successfully on the first try (see featured photo by Delia Tosi, IceCube, UW-Madison). Upon our arrival, there were some very excited IceCubers waiting for us outside on the skiway to welcome us to the station. It was nice to know that we had friends there waiting for us! We then sat through an orientation video in one of the lounges to familiarize ourselves with the station. The main difference between the South Pole and McMurdo is that it takes significantly more resources to make water at the pole. For this reason they are stricter about things like showering. You are only allowed to take two showers per week and they can’t be more than two minutes long.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Elevated Station
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Elevated Station

Another big difference about being at the pole is that with the exception of the experimental facilities such as IceCube, everything is located in one building. Labs, lounges, bedrooms, the galley and the gym are located in what is called the “elevated station.” It makes sense that everything is one place there because it was typically -20 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chills of less than -40 while we were there. You don’t want to go very far without gearing up in your ECW!*

ICL, the IceCube Lab
ICL, the IceCube Lab

Getting around to the different sites at the South Pole can be done by taking a “sled.” This is what they call their snowmobiles. There are also a variety of trailers so that you can haul equipment or more

Happy times with the neutron monitors
Happy times with the neutron monitors

people to the site you are visiting. Since we were not staying at the pole for very long, none of us opted to take the snowmobile training session so that we could drive, but we often found ourselves getting a ride from one of the IceCubers.

After getting acquainted with the technician who has been taking care of the neutron monitors, we went out to see the sites where they were located. There were three large and heavily insulated enclosures for the three tubes that were kept outside, identifiable by their distinctive smiley faces. There were also some bare tubes inside the station that contained helium 3, though they lacked the smiley face trademark.

Muon Tagger test in ICL
Muon Tagger test in ICL

The IceCube building is referred to as ICL, and we went there to set up our muon tagger and see it in action at the South Pole. There were some hiccups in the process of getting it to run smoothly and take data how we wanted it to, but after working with the electronics and consulting with Joe back at River Falls, we got it to work almost how we wanted it to. There are still a few kinks to work out. We also opted to bring back two other DAQ’s with us so that those can be upgraded before next season.
While at the South Pole, everybody was extremely friendly and nice. We got to go on some tours of other people’s projects including the South Pole Telescope group who studies the microwave cosmic background and SPICE Core who drills down into the ice and takes samples back up in order to be studied.

The final tour we did was rather interesting as well. One of the plumbers took us down below the station into what they call the “ice tunnels” where all the water and plumbing lines are located. It was about -60 degrees Fahrenheit down there, brrrrrrrr!! Every so often they have to go down with a chainsaw and widen the halls because the ice moves in and shrinks the passageways.

SPICE Core team bringing up a 40,000+ year old ice core from over a mile down
SPICE Core team bringing up a 40,000+ year old ice core from over a mile down
Ice Caves at the South Pole
Ice Caves at the South Pole

Trying to leave the South Pole, we again ran into troubles with the flights. We were supposed to leave for McMurdo on a Monday and we didn’t end up getting back finally until Friday because there were weather delays and an incident with another plane getting stuck on the South Pole skiway for several days. On our first attempt, a plane come picked us up and dropped off more people at the same time. We ended up boomeranging back to the pole after a short flight because it was apparent that the weather in McMurdo would not provide for a safe landing. The problem was that they had already given away our rooms to the newcomers and the station was at maximum capacity. So Laura and I became South Pole couch-surfing bums while Dr. Madsen opted to sleep in the gym where they had brought in some spare mattresses from storage. This lasted for three nights until finally another plane came to pick us up and bring us back to McMurdo. Due to the kindness and hospitality of everybody there, it was actually not a bad experience. We hung out with the stranded flight crew, the firefighters, the IceCube winter-overs, and various other people every night. Good times were had by all in the lounge playing pool and darts, listening to music and just having good conversations. The South Pole station is a very special place and I feel extremely lucky to have had the experience of spending time with all the amazing and interesting people there.

*ECW=Extreme Cold Weather clothing.

We made it to the South Pole!

By Prof James Madsen

A lot has happened since the last post. We met up with IceCube team members who were on their way to the Pole. Matt Kauer, Morten Medici, Tomasz Palczewski and Jacob van Santen arrived along with a Ricoh Theta 360 camera from teacher Juan Botella. This is an extremely compact, thin camera with fish-eye lenses opposite each other front and back. It takes pictures and videos that capture a full spherical view. An app is available to allow the viewer to scroll around and “look” in all directions. It is really neat.

Laura and Robert on Observation Hill as captured by the 360 camera.  The left and right side of the picture “connect” like a world map.
Laura and Robert on Observation Hill as captured by the 360 camera. The left and right side of the picture “connect” like a world map.

Everything takes a lot of planning and time to execute, all done at the mercy of nature. The weather at McMurdo station has been fine, but there have been many days where flights have been cancelled because of low visibility including one period of condition one (number one bad!) weather at Williams Field. We were fortunate to get out on our first try, but air travel here is a little different than on a commercial airline.

First, you have to keep an eye on the monitors or look at the intranet to see if you are listed on the flight manifest (=passenger list). If so, then your name also appears on the “bag drag” list, giving the time and day to report in full cold weather gear (CWG) with all your luggage. After weighing all items—checked baggage (no charge!) and hand carry which must total less than 85 pounds—the passenger also gets weighed. This is a bit of a shock as the CWG adds another 20 to 25 pounds. At least that’s my story.

Vehicles at Willy Field.
Vehicles at Willy Field.

another 20 to 25 pounds. At least that’s my story.

We had a 6:15 am shuttle time but I had a test run for a webcast with a museum in Mexico at 4:00 am followed by an actually webcasts starting at 5:15 am. There were some issues connected with the IceCube group at the South Pole so Laura, Robert and I told about our projects, and travel experience until the group at the Pole could join. We got to our shuttle on-time, got out to the airfield, and then waited for about 2 hours while final loading and fueling took place.

The scenery on the way to the Pole is spectacular. This is my third trip, and I still am awed by the desolation and simple beauty of the continent. Our greeting on deplaning was really heartwarming. IceCuber Delia Tosi, who has been at the Pole for about a month, along with most of the IceCube team we had met in McMurdo, were there to greet us. It was really special with Delia jumping up and down like we were long lost relatives, and providing hugs all around. After a short briefing, we had lunch, and then settled into our rooms.


Scenes from the flight to the South Pole.
Scenes from the flight to the South Pole.

The “new station”, which is now about a decade old, is very nice, with small individual rooms with communal bathrooms at the end of the hall. All visitors pitch in to keep the common areas clean, with “house mouse” duties assigned once per week with the day depending on your room number. Laura lucked out, and got to help clean the bathroom her first day! The rest of the afternoon was spent getting used to our new environment, meeting the support people, and eating a wonderful evening meal in the galley.

The new station as viewed by the 360 camera.
The new station as viewed by the 360 camera.

Robert’s Adventures Down Under

By Robert Zill

(Undergraduate DuPage College and NIU)

Well, it’s about time for me to get a post on here so here it is!

It has been a very long, exciting and nerve-wrecking trip for me. When I left O’Hare airport in Chicago, they made me check my carry-on bag at the last minute because they ran out of overhead space on the airplane. Although the flight attendant assured me that this bag would only go to LAX, I arrived there to find that it did not come down the carousel and after waiting to talk to a baggage personnel, I found that they had sent the bag all the way to Christchurch. This would have been no big deal, except for the fact that my visa paperwork for New Zealand was in there! So I then proceeded to scour the whole airport trying to find someone who would let me use a printer to print out new copies of my papers. When I was unsuccessful in that mission, it was recommended to me that I should leave the airport to find a FedEx print and ship location, so that is what I did. The taxi cab driver told me that I could take the free Mariott shuttle since the FedEx was right next door. So after getting off the shuttle and discovering that the FedEx was closed for the holiday and that the next nearest one was also closed, I proceeded to panic. However, after going door to door I found a hotel with a computer and printer I could use in the lobby. What a relief! After printing my papers and power-walking back to the airport to go through security for the third time that day, I could finally relax and have a drink and vent the day’s troubles to the very kind bartender from New York. From here on out it would a much smoother ride.

Arriving in Sydney on the most massive plane I have ever been on, I was relieved to see Dr. Madsen waiting for me outside baggage claim. Laura had already gone down to the harbor to get her sight-seeing started. So we hopped on a train down to Circular Quay (pronounced like ‘key’) so that we could walk up the Sydney Harbour Bridge and get a bird’s eye view of the Opera House. The roof was not, however, a pure white color as depicted in the movie “Finding Nemo.” It was actually made of a mix of white and beige ceramic tiling which looked predominantly beige from the bridge. We then met Laura at the oldest bar in Sydney where I had my first kangaroo steak of my life which was delicious. After checking out some of the local vendors, we then separated again so that Dr. Madsen and I could go to the Botanical Gardens while Laura checked out the bridge. Unfortunately it began to downpour on our way so we took shelter in the Museum of Modern Art. After the rain stopped, we had enough time to go get up close and personal with the Opera House before getting back on the train to the airport and heading to New Zealand.

Opera House in Sydney
Opera House in Sydney
Kangaroo Sirloin
Kangaroo Sirloin

Upon arriving in New Zealand at night, I was happy to leave the interpreting to Dr. Madsen as the many flights had really taken it out of me. After fitting our ECW in the morning it was interesting to walk around Christchurch and see the remaining damage from the earthquakes. It gave the town a very eerie feel to it. The graffiti art around town was very interesting and visually appealing for the most part. The next day when our flight got cancelled, I was not very upset to have to go down to Sumner beach at the recommendation of Suruj. I was the only one out of the four of us (we met up with James, an IceCube technician on his way back home from the ice) to be brave enough to jump in the water and take a swim, which was extremely refreshing. I had never been in the Pacific Ocean before that. Walking back along the beach we ventured into Cave Rock which was about what the name implies. The scenery was very beautiful. And all the Kiwis (people of New Zealand) are all so nice! It is definitely not like the States. After a very long walk and a bus ride we eventually made it to a place called The Brewers Arms where I had pork, ostrich, kangaroo, and venison served raw on a 400 degree stone for the customer to cut up and cook themselves to their liking. That was my first ostrich and first venison as well. I’ve already had several firsts on this trip and we haven’t even made it to the ice yet!

Cathedral in the Square. The Cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquake in 2010.
Christchurch Graffiti Art.
Christchurch Graffiti Art.
Turf war with seagull on Sumner Beach.
Turf war with seagull on Sumner Beach.

Finally stepping off the LC-130 onto Antarctica was like stepping onto a different planet. There was white in every direction as far as you could see. It felt surreal. As with the whole trip up to this point, I had to fight the urge to constantly take pictures so that I could just take it all in. We hopped on Ivan the Terra Bus and took about a 20 minute ride to drop the Kiwis off at Scott Base and then another 10 minutes to McMurdo. We had a little debriefing session with the station manager and NSF representative before we got our room keys and key cards for the lab. We stopped at the coffee house for a bottle of wine before heading to sleep for the night. It is a very strange thing to walk outside at 11pm to go to your room when it is still completely bright out! I’m not sure I will get used to that, though it is actually kind of cool. There is a window in our room (I am bunking with Dr. Madsen) but they make it so that you can block out the light completely which is nice.

Laura and I boarding Ivan the Terra Bus!
Laura and I boarding Ivan the Terra Bus!

We had some tough work to do on one of the tubes of the neutron monitor that was acting up and the work was made even tougher by the cold, but Dr. Madsen, Laura and I made a good team to get the job done. Now we are working on figuring out the logistics and planning for next year which hopefully will involve moving two neutron monitor set-ups so that they can get shipped over to the Korean base and get set up again there. We took the scenic route back from Cos-Ray one day and got to see some skuas and some seals as well. It is really amazing to see wildlife in such a remote place.

Several skuas flying around while a seal swims in the water.
Several skuas flying around while a seal swims in the water.
The water has such a blue color, it is amazing.
The water has such a blue color, it is amazing.

If all goes to plan we will be headed down to the South Pole on Wednesday (1/13/16). I am so excited about that! I still can hardly believe that I am going to get to travel to geographical bottom of the earth! It is really amazing and I can’t thank the people involved enough for making this opportunity happen for me. I have also decided that on the way back home I will stay in New Zealand for a while and check out the south island as much as I can before heading home. I have to take the spring semester off because even if I came back right away I would be missing a good portion of the beginning of the semester anyway. I would like to point out that this decision was not made in haste and my home institutions support my decision and are willing to work with me to make this happen. I am already planning on doing some student outreach when I return, especially to “non-traditional” students like myself. I know it is going to be hard to leave New Zealand when the time comes, but I am sure I will be missing home very much by that point as well.

Well, stay tuned until next time and I’ll have an update from the South Pole!