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August 24, 2001

H.S. Teachers Learn About Antarctica Astronomy

While most people weathered Wisconsin's unusually sultry summer by thinking about colder climes, a group of 23 school teachers really gave colder weather their undivided attention.

They thought about Antartica, and about the absolute zero of outer space.

For two weeks, these high school science teachers from around the United States and the world studied about a revolutionary astronomy project located a mile below the ice sheet on the world's southern polar cap.

They were immersed in AMANDAč the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array.

The teachers were the students of University of Wisconsin-River Falls Physics Professor Jim Madsen. They learned to translate the science project into innovative laboratory lectures and projects for their high school or middle school students. Madsen will follow up with a visit to each of their classrooms.

Madsen served as a consultant on the AMANDA project last winter, helping to calibrate the international experiment founded by UW-Madison Professor Frank Halzen.

AMANDA is a revolutionary style of telescope whose goal is to map the universe by tracking neutrinos as these infinitesimally small particles pass through the earth. The project was launched in 1994, with the present mile-deep telescope completed in 1999.

"This is the biggest, most exciting telescope in the world. And the most exciting thing is that it works," says Madsen. AMANDA is a prototype for an even larger telescope that is planned for the future: ICE CUBE.

Madsen's enthusiasm for the project was matched by his co-presenters, particle physicist Halzen and graduate student Brenda Dingus, who will spend nine months in Antartica this academic year.

The excitement of the project was appreciated by the workshop's students, including Mats Pettersson of Sweden and Jason Petula of Tunkhannock, Penn., High School. They will travel to Antartica this fall for three weeks to work along side the project's scientists as they conduct their experiments.

Pettersson's expedition is funded through the Swedish Polar Program while P etula was selected through the National Science Foundation's Teachers Experiencing Antartica program.

Said Pettersson: "I was looking for projects that would add more of an environmental dimension to my classes." As he began to surf the Internet for classroom ideas one he came across was for the Polar Ice Caps. At the site he saw a link that said "Grants for Teachers."

He pressed it and instantly thought, "This is for me."

Pettersson intends to incorporate numerous dimensions into his classroom including science, the humanities and social sciences that will introduce topics as narrowly focused as AMANDA to the more general, such as polar exploration and expeditions as well as humanity's use of natural resources.

He is particularly intrigued by the AMANDA project. "I have always had a strong interest in astronomy, and this is a whole new method of exploring spacečusing neutrinos. It's very exciting."

UW-RF's Madsen said the AMANDA workshop, in its second year, is intended to help high school teachers reverse the national trend of decreasing numbers of young people who are choosing science as a career.

Through lectures and experiments on five components of the AMANDA project, Madsen expects the teachers to show young people that science can be intellectually challenging and invigorating.

"The key thing from the workshop is to let young people know about all the really amazing things going on in the sciences," Madsen said. "When I was a student, you read about things from 200 years ago; about things that were already done.

"AMANDA is a great learning and discovery project. These are things the brightest people in the world don't have an answer to. There are unknowns."

Here is a listing of workshop participants by community and high school:


Boyceville High School: Joshua Halvorson.
Clayton High School: Matt Verch, Clayton.
Eau Claire Memorial High School: Joel Robaidek, Eau Claire.
Ellsworth High School: Curt Dumeruth, Ellsworth.
Marshfield High School: Jon Bauer, Auburndale.
Green Bay Ashwaubenon High School: Brack Gillespie, Appleton.
River Falls High School: Paul Hazzard, Vadnais Heights, Minn.
Plum City Middle School: Scott Kelly, Bay City.
Superior High School: George Lehman, Superior.


Calendonia High School: Cheryl Utecht, Winona.
Farmington High School: Doug Mead, Northfield, Minn.
Graceville CGB High School: Robert Sime, Chokio.
Minneapolis Southwest High School: Sherwood Bergseid, Shorewood.
Rochester: Mayo High School, Steve Brehmer, Wanamingo.; Mayo High School Planetarium, Larry Mascotti, Rochester.
St. Paul St. Croix Lutheran High School: Leanne Stob, North St. Paul.
Winona High School: Sammy Boysen, Winona; Bill Braun, Winona.
Winona Cotther High School: Casey McCausland, Winona.


West Des Moines Valley High School: Jack Hansen, Indianola.

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