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
astrophysicist.

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
results.

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.

IMG_4127
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).

IMG_4429
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.

Norway

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.

image1_copy

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.

IMG_4014_copy

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.

BootCamp2016
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.
Bootcamp
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.