Category Archives: NSF IRES


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.


Stockholm Summer Starts

Editor’s Note: Five undergrads are taking part in an NSF Funded IRES program in Sweden this year. Here they start to chronicle their adventures. They are Vanessa Esaw (University of Minnesota and 2015 UWRF REU, Nick Kulacz and Nick Jensen (UWRF), Jack Nuckles (UW-Madison), and Samantha Pedek (UWRF)

After three flights over the course of a full day, we all made it safely to Stockholm, Sweden on Sunday May 22, 2016. For many of us, this was the first time out of the country. The flights, though long, were uneventful. Vanessa and Sam are staying in an adorable apartment in northern Stockholm for the first week before moving to southern Stockholm for the rest of the time.

Samantha's and Vanessa's Apartment Building
View from Samantha’s and Vanessa’s Apartment Building for the first week.

Nick, Nick and Jack are staying in a tiny apartment in northern Stockholm. The doors have been the biggest adversary as they open the wrong way almost all the time, and the shower is not enclosed and therefore gets the bathroom floor all wet. One of our first tasks when we arrived was finding a grocery store. It is unbelievably difficult to shop in a market for things in a different language and are not where you “expect” them to be!

Minnesota Maple Syrup
Found here: Minnesota Maple Syrup
American Peanut Butter
and : American Peanut Butter

The people here are very hospitable and friendly and almost everyone speaks English. Overall, Swedes seems happy and content. The fact that summer holiday is right around the corner may have something to do with that. Summer holiday is from the end of June until the beginning of August. Basically the entire country vacations during that time!

The weather here is very similar to weather in Wisconsin when we left, which is welcoming. One major difference though is how long the sun is up. The sun starts to rise at around 4:00am and doesn’t set until about 10:00pm. The majority of our first week consisted of settling in and adjusting to the new environment.

Midway through the week we all settled on projects for the summer. As a brief overview: Nick and Nick are working on building a one meter cubed to scale LED model of IceCube, Jack is modeling cosmic ray sources in the galactic plane, Vanessa is using machine learning algorithms to optimize muon track reconstruction and Sam is simulating a version of Gen 2 to check the likelihood of detecting extragalactic supernova.

The work environment here is very relaxed. Both the professors and the grad students are very helpful and flexible. Once a week we have fika, which is a staple of Swedish culture. Everyone from the office gets together for a coffee break with a light snack. It is a chance to socialize and catch up with everyone in the office.

This Friday, Kip Thorne visited the University of Stockholm to give a talk on gravitational waves, which were recently discovered by LIGO. Kip Thorne was one of the original founders of LIGO. The talk was very comprehensive and we all enjoyed it.

Faint signal of Kip Thorne at edge of image.
Faint signal of Kip Thorne at edge of image.

Here  is the University of Stockholm Astronomy Building where our office is located.

University of Stockholm Astronomy Building
University of Stockholm Astronomy Building



Maggie and Quincy in Mainz, Germany

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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


Maggie and Quincy


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

Laura and Kelsey in Germany

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

Hello all!

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

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

Kelsey in downtown Bochum.
Kelsey in downtown Bochum.

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

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


Anna’s 6th Week in Europe

Editor’s Note: Is Rami having any fun at all, or is he stuck in the lab?


I can’t believe it is already the end of July. This summer is flying by, but I guess we all know what they say… time flies when you’re having fun.


Progress has been made on the ARA station fitting and calibration. Thomas and I have incorporated a ray trace correction (as I talked about last week) successfully. On Wednesday I presented to the group about the progress we have made. Now next week we plan to test the reconstruction on some data that was taken from different locations surrounding the station with a pulser above the ice. Hopefully these results further prove we have successfully attained station coordinates.


This weekend I had my first visitors in Beglium! My cousin from Ireland and his girlfriend came to stay at our house. On Friday we went to Bruges for the morning and then traveled to Gent for a music festival that afternoon. On Saturday we traveled to Dinant and toured the city. In the evening we explored downtown Brussels. Brussels is so great in the dark with the whole city lit up. the picture below is a view from nearby the Parliament building looking down to the city. Sunday we spent the day at the Brussels Park and ate wonderful food downtown. It was so much fun sharing with people the country I call home temporarily.


Thanks for reading!


Week Five in Brussels


Week 5 has come and gone. This summer is going by way too fast. This week I started to wrap up the calibration and station fitting. I have been trying different ways to correct the timings of the hit when I input them into the reconstruction method. The reason for this is that we don’t take into account ray tracing. Ray tracing corrects  an effect on the radio pulse’s path because of the ice properties. It causes a curve in the path which would make the time from the pulse sent (either from the calibration pulses or a neutrino interaction in the ice) to the time the detector gets hit different than if it had a straight line path. Our reconstruction assumes there is a straight line path, so we have been trying to change this.


Over the weekend I traveled to DInant, Belgium. It is a lovely city south east of Brussels. I stayed at a hostel owned by a physicist and his wife that are from Michigan. Such a small world! On Saturday I did a little hiking and site seeing and on Sunday I kayaked down the river. It was a very relaxing weekend in a beautiful city. The picture above is the view from the room I stayed in at the hostel.


On monday Rami and I had the day off because it was a national holiday. We went downtown to the festivities. There was a fair and music throughout the city centre. It was cool to see the traditions of another city on a holiday. The holiday celebrates Beglium’s first king, Leopold. The royal family makes an appearance and the whole city awaits eagerly to see their royal family.