Category Archives: Neutrino

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.

South Pole! Nowhere from here but North

By Dylan Frikken – UWRF Undergraduate in physics

When I was told this summer that I would have the opportunity to work in Antarctica, there was one small catch. Only Sam and Dr. Madsen would be going to the South Pole, leaving me behind at McMurdo Station on the coast. After finishing up our work at the Cosray building in McMurdo, Sam and Dr. Madsen began to prepare for their journey to the bottom of the world, and I started to volunteer myself for anything needed around the community to keep myself busy. About 30 minutes before they were supposed to go bag-drag (checking bags/weight for the flight), Dr. Madsen told me that I had been added to the manifest, leaving me a half hour to pack for the expedition of a lifetime.

After we had checked in and weighed for the next day’s flight the realization of where we would be going started to set in. Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station is located at the geographic South Pole at an elevation of 9,301 feet above sea level. We were going from sea level to nearly 10,000 feet in just under 3 hours.  In order to combat altitude sickness, it was recommended that we take ‘something’ to ease our adjustment.

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The next day we hopped on a shuttle to the Willy airfield near McMurdo, and boarded our flight. There was only five passengers including us, so we got to move around freely and enjoy the breathtaking scenery below the plane. Three hours later we landed, and were greeted by a few of the IceCubers who brought us into the station to receive our welcome brief. The South Pole station is an amazing feat of engineering and design. The elevated station looks like something from science fiction, and was designed to be raised since the snow drifts quite heavily there.

Reflections at the South Pole.
Reflections at the South Pole.

The first day at the South Pole it is recommended you take it easy to acclimatize to the sudden change in altitude.  We toured the station, enjoyed the great food and played a couple board games. Day two started off much quicker.  We toured the IceCube Lab and the South Pole Telescope (a cosmic microwave background observatory). Then in the afternoon I volunteered to assist scientists with the ARA project, a radio wave based neutrino detection array.  I helped dig a 7 foot hole to find an instrumentation hole that had been augured 5 years prior.

Locating the ARA pinger.
Locating the ARA pinger.

Physical labor is no small task at the South Pole between the altitude, cold, wind and blowing snow.  It was much slower work than it would be anywhere else. While I was busy undoing 5 years of Antarctica’s drifting snow, Dr. Madsen and Sam started their work collecting a sample of the insulating foam surrounding the South Pole neutron monitors deployed outside on an elevated platform.

Our last morning at the pole started at 3 am to join an outreach web cast with some of the IceCubers and Kate Miller, a high school physics teacher here with the PolarTREC program.  She also blogged and posted videos about her trip.  After the web-cast and a much needed nap, Sam and I went back out into the frozen wasteland to assist the ARA scientists once again. After we found two of the holes the day prior, we were tasked with deploying a radio transmitter and receiver in order to calibrate their sensors.

Our time at the South Pole was short. We only had about 48 hours due to our time constraints for redeploying back to the USA.  The uncooperative weather this season caused a lot of flight cancellations and delays to the pole.  So we played it safe and got on the first flight back to McMurdo on Friday.  It was a good thing we did, because the next three scheduled flights were canceled. Even though we had a short time, the South Pole was an amazing experience.

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Samantha and Dylan, UWRF physics undergraduates, leaving McMurdo for the South Pole.

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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.