South Pole science comes to UW-Whitewater

April 09, 2013

IceCubeEven though it's 9,000 miles away, Wisconsin played a major role in the construction and management of one of the world's largest and most interesting telescopes -- the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located at the South Pole in Antarctica.

On Friday, April 12, astrophysicists will come to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to talk about what it's like to work at the South Pole, one of the harshest environments in the world. The presentations are part of a statewide program funded by the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment Foundation and WIPAC. 

"Astrophysics is complementary to traditional, optical-based astronomy," said Paolo Desiati, a researcher at UW-Madison's Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC). "People often think of physics in terms of classical mechanics, but it's also important to understanding things like exploding stars and other phenomena in our galaxy."

A night of Antarctic exploration begins at 7 p.m. in Upham Hall room 141 with "From the South Pole to the Edge of the Universe," part of the Observatory Lecture Series. Visitors can explore a cloud chamber that shows the tracks of subatomic particles, program a computer to control LED lights, and take a particle identification quiz.  At 8 p.m., Desiati will give a presentation about how IceCube was built, what it's looking for, and why it's important.

DesiatiDesiati (pictured right) is from Italy, and received his Ph.D. at Sapienza - Università di Roma.  As an astrophysicist at WIPAC, he works with researchers in the physics and astronomy departments, focusing on IceCube data analysis and properties of cosmic rays.

IceCube, a National Science Foundation project, looks for ghost-like particles called neutrinos, which can travel through the Earth easier than light goes through glass.  The entire detector is built into the 2,800-meter thick-ice sheet at the South Pole.

It took more than a decade and the efforts of an international collaboration of scientists to design, test and build IceCube. The worldwide effort is rooted squarely in Wisconsin with key partners at UW-Madison and staff and suppliers from around the state.


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri