Oct. 29, 2004
UW-RF Student Turns Childhood Dream Into Reality
By Molly Exner
UW-RF News Bureau
A University of Wisconsin-River Falls student traveled to Uppsala, Sweden in October to meet with representatives from 27 institutions across the world to share results and make plans for a telescope that opens a new window into the universe in Antarctica.
Jonathan Eisch, a junior physics major and Wisconsin Rapids native, accompanied UW-RF physics Professor Jim Madsen and assistant Professor Glenn Spiczak on the trip. They met with collaborators from the international IceCube project from Belgium, Germany, Japan, and Sweden, among others. UW-RF is the only undergraduate institution affiliated with the Antarctica project, which is making major contributions in the scientific field of cosmology,
During the last decade, IceCube scientists constructed and operated the first high-energy neutrino telescope. Completed in 2000, the Antarctic Moon and Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA) has transformed part of the Antarctic icecap into a particle detector.
With AMANDA as its proof-of-concept, the IceCube telescope was constructed to peer deep into the cosmos searching for dark matter that could reveal new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature.
The focus of the IceCube group at UW-RF is on the IceTop Cosmic Ray Detector, which is installed on the ice surface above the telescope. UW-RF also takes part in the process of designing and fabricating light shades and permanent light tight covers for the detectors being deployed this December at the South Pole.
For the past five years, Madsen has been active in the education and outreach efforts for the AMANDA and IceCube projects. Madsen has traveled to the South Pole numerous times and says the trip gives UW-RF students valuable experience outside of the classroom.
Eisch is just one of Madsen's students whose childhood interest in cosmology has taken him on a journey across the globe. Madsen has traveled with two other UW-RF students to the coldest, driest, highest and windiest place on earth.
Eisch read about the AMANDA project in junior high and continued to track its progress throughout the years. Eisch says he chose to attend UW-RF, not only for the location and atmosphere, but also because of the University's participation in the international collaboration.
When Eisch arrived at UW-RF as a freshman, he expressed an interest in working on the IceCube project. Eisch says Madsen and other members of the physics department were "extremely enthusiastic" about helping him get started.
Eisch spent the summer of 2004 working with the IceCube group at the Bartol Research Institute at the University of Delaware, which is one of his first choices for a doctoral program in physics. Eisch says he wants to put his experience to work right away and start out "ahead of the crowd."
Through this research project, students and faculty are discovering new techniques in searching for evidence of dark matter and studying neutrinos, which are some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe.
"Working on research with the IceCube project has given me lots of real world experience with electronics, data analysis, programming and hardware design, all of which will be useful throughout my career," says Eisch. "At collaboration meetings I've attended in Mons, Belgium; Newark, Delaware and Uppsala, Sweden, I've able to talk face-to-face with physicists from around the world and get feedback about what I'm working on."
The National Science Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, among other significant sources, provide primary funding supporting the AMANDA and IceCube projects.
According to Eisch, science is often taught as a static discipline with laws and equations developed by "old geniuses long ago." Eisch thought it would be years before he did anything but work out problems in a textbook.
Eisch says, "The biggest surprise in working on the IceCube project is that you don't have to be old with a Ph.D. to contribute, even in a small way, to our understanding of nature."