University of Wisconsin-River Falls

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Nov. 25, 2003


UW-RF Student to Spend Christmas at the Southpole
By Jessica Campbell
UW-RF News Bureau

Whether or not Wisconsin gets snow this holiday season, Jonathan Eisch of Wisconsin Rapids is one who is certain to have a white Christmas.

The UW-River Falls physics major will embark upon a journey to the South Pole from Dec. 19 to Jan. 6 to work with a team of international scientists in the IceCube Project.

In the last decade, an international collaboration of scientists constructed and operated the first high-energy neutrino telescope, called the Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detector Array or AMANDA. The AMANDA was installed in a remote polar icecap of the Antarctic.

The international community of scientists and engineers that build, study and evaluate the nuclear and particle astrophysics and cosmology of the IceCube observatory enable others to experience the excitement of learning and discovery. The IceCube Education Resource Center enables students from different collaborating institutions the chance to participate in the IceCube project.

UW-RF is one of these universities in the research group, represented by UW-RF physics Professor Jim Madsen. The joint effort of the IceCube Project spans the globe consisting of institutions from Japan, Germany, Sweden, Belgium, Antarctica, and several from the U.S.

Eisch's first reading of AMANDA when he was in high school sparked his interest in the IceCube Project, and even determined where he chose to go to college. "I wanted to go to one that participated in the IceCube international collaboration," says Eisch about his opportunity to work on meaningful research as an undergraduate at UW-RF.

The UW-RF physics faculty was very enthusiastic about helping Eisch get started on research. His experience with similar functioning tanks in the UW-RF physics lab will enable him to perform his duty at the South Pole observatory. He will be monitoring the freeze of water in two prototype detectors on the surface of the South Pole station. Also, last month he underwent training with these instruments at the Bartol Research Institute in Delaware. There he met and worked with the people he will be joining.

Eisch's addition to the team is significant. He must make sure the detector equipment runs correctly. "This has never been done before at the pole, so I will have to be ready for anything that could go wrong."

Eisch is the only undergraduate going to the pole this season; however, this significance doesn't affect his motivation or performance. A month ago, he gave a talk in Mons, Belgium, on his research thus far. He was the only undergraduate out of 120 research physicists at the meeting.

The history of astronomy shows that work in new energy has invariably resulted in the discovery of totally unexpected phenomena. Eisch is excited to be one of the first people to peer through this "new window" into the universe that is sure to open new frontiers of understanding. "I'm excited to be working with such great people on a project that will give us new eyes to discover more about this amazing universe we live in."

Through the use of about 750 optical sensors, the AMANDA can detect faint flashes of light from subatomic particles, neutrinos, through the transparent ice. The unique interactions of neutrinos with matter make them valuable as astronomical messengers. AMANDA has demonstrated the viability of a neutrino telescope in ice by detecting neutrinos produced in the earth's atmosphere as far away as the North Pole.

IceCube is a new telescope under construction at the South Pole, in Antarctica. Encompassing a cubic kilometer of ice, IceCube will provide a novel viewpoint on the multi-messenger astronomy of the most violent astrophysical sources. The telescope is a powerful tool to search for dark matter and could reveal the new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature.

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