Louis Ascencio
Staff Writer

On Nov. 8, 2021, Whittier College was given the opportunity to be a part of the organization IceCube Neutrino Observatory, also referred to as IceCube. IceCube finished construction of their Neutrino Observatory in December of 2010. It is known as the “world’s largest neutrino telescope,” the biggest particle detector across the world, being the first of its kind. A neutrino is a subatomic particle with no electrical charge and very little mass, similar to an electron. These particles are detected from events in the universe that are cataclysmic, such as exploding stars, black holes, gamma-ray bursts, and neutron stars. Over 5,000 light detectors are buried deep in the ice of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica in order to detect these particles in the depths of space. IceCube’s primary goal is detecting neutrinos that have great amounts of energy.

IceCube is one of the biggest physics projects in our country, consisting of hundreds of physicists from institutions spanning across a dozen countries; with the goal of observing ultra-high energy neutrinos from space. For over a decade, IceCube has reported major observations, such as neutrinos with high energy forming outside of the solar system. Additionally, they discovered a source for high energy neutrinos, a flaring blazar with a black hole at the core.  Jordan Hanson, Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Whitter, has his own experience in relation to neutrinos. Hanson, after completing his bachelor’s degree in physics at Yale University, went to get his  Ph.D in physics from UC Irvine. There, Hanson helped his thesis advisor, Dr. Steven Barwick, put together a neutrino detector using natural ice formations from Antarctica as a detection medium. Hanson worked with a team  in Antarctica researching and catching neutrinos in their most natural state. Now, Hanson will serve as the institutional lead on Whittier College’s collaboration with IceCube Neutrino Observatory.

In a press release, Hanson discussed what it meant for Whittier College to collaborate with IceCube, saying that, “Whittier students will gain access to IceCube datasets, and we will have the ability to publish results with the IceCube collaboration. Whittier students can also attend the IceCube collaboration meeting, which is similar to a specialized physics conference. These will be huge learning opportunities for those who want to do professional science.”  IceCube has a planned upgrade called Generation 2, or Gen2. Gen2 will offer a different view of the high energy universe, advancing the knowledge we have about the universe of high energy. Gen2’s goal is to deliver statistically significant samples coming from astrophysical neutrinos that possess high energy. A total of 750 advanced photodetectors and calibration devices will be deployed into the current IceCube detector. The spacing between light sensors will increase from the current 125 meters to 250 meters, allowing for volume to increase. Other slight modifications will be made for overall improvement, including cost savings and its efficiency. These upgrades will have a major impact on the research and operation of IceCube. Hanson, along with those who are helping him, will play a part in engineering projects linked to the Gen2 upgrade.

Hanson said, “The basic idea for IceCube neutrino detection is that neutrinos from space create optical and radio-frequency (RF) signals in ice. These specific areas are ripe for collaboration between IceCube and Whittier College: mathematical physics modeling of the neutrino signals, which happen to be in the RF bandwidth, design and fabrication of RF antennas through 3D printing, and computational modeling of the propagation of the RF signals in Antarctic ice.”

Students are already working in collaboration with IceCube and the Physics Department at Whittier College.  “Working with Professor Hanson has been an amazing experience, and I am very grateful for the opportunity of being able to participate in cutting edge research in Astroparticle Physics,” said third-year Raymond Hartig. “Detecting an ultra-high energy neutrino is a long sought goal in the Particle and Astrophysics community, and would provide much insight into the workings of the universe.” 

Hartig added, “I am excited that I am an active participant in the IceCube Neutrino Observatory Project. I have learned much more from collaborating with Professor Hanson than I ever would have from a textbook.  The skills obtained from this project are indispensable, as my goal is to become a Theoretical Physicist!” 

Professor Hanson explained the importance of  his work with Raymond Hartig, completing the publication process of a mathematical physics paper in which the two will present a model of the electromagnetic field the neutrinos create when hitting ice. “This model can be used to search future IceCube Gen2 data for signals from neutrinos that have a factor of 100 more energy than we’ve ever observed before.” Hanson explained. Additionally, Hanson has been exploring RF antenna design and fabrication through 3D printing. He has been doing this with the help of Whittier students, Adam Wildanger, Natasha Walforf, and Andrew Householder.

This opportunity has been and will continue to be a perfect change for students in the physics field to gain hands-on experience in their field before graduate.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Martin Wolf, IceCube/NSF

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In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.

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