Science@Cal Lecture, August 2010

When a neutrino collides with a water molecule deep in Antarctica's ice, the particle it produces radiates a blue light called Cerenkov radiation, which IceCube will detect (Steve Yunck/NSF)

On August 21, our talk was given by Dr. Spencer Klein, and was entitled “Neutrino Astronomy in Antarctica”.

For the past 50 years, scientists have been studying cosmic-ray air showers consisting of billions of particles, produced when an ultra-high energy particle strikes the earth. The most energetic of these particles have energies comparable to that of a boxer’s punch. Despite enormous effort, we still have not found the cosmic accelerators that create these particles. 

One way to find these accelerators is to search for the neutrinos that they produce. Neutrinos travel cosmic distances in a straight line, interact weakly, and can reach us even through dust clouds or other obstructions. Because of their weak interactions, huge detectors are required to observe these neutrinos. Antarctic ice is an attractive material, and several neutrino detectors are being built there. The 1-cubic-kilometer IceCube neutrino observatory is already in partial operation at the South Pole. The proposed 100 cubic-kilometer ARIANNA detector will be located on the Ross Ice Shelf, about 20 miles offshore.

In this talk, I will discuss the rationale for building these detectors, show some early results from IceCube, and discuss future prospects with ARIANNA and other proposed detectors. I will also discuss what it’s like to work on high-tech detectors in Antarctica. 

Dr. Klein is a research physicist in the UC Berkeley physics department, a senior scientist in the Nuclear Science Division at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a fellow of the American Physical Society. He helped build the IceCube neutrino observatory and is working on designing the proposed ARIANNA neutrino detector. He spent part of December, 2009 on the Ross Ice Shelf, deploying a prototype for ARIANNA; in 2006, he spent 2½ weeks at the South Pole, working on IceCube construction.

You can watch the video of his talk by clicking on the link below.

You can also see details of the next talk in the series, and the full calendar of talks.