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South Pole researchers training this week at UW’s Physical Sciences Lab

August 4, 2008

This week marks the annual “Driller and Deployer Workshop” for research staff who will work at the South Pole as part of the well-known IceCube Neutrino Observatory project.

While the science of the project has received much attention over the past several years, less is known about the cooperative role played by Physical Sciences Laboratory (PSL), which has designed and engineered much of the one-of-a-kind equipment needed for this unique project. IceCube seeks to shed light on the heretofore dimly lit history of the universe.

But with South Pole summer lasting from late November to February — a period known as polar summer and during which all work must be done — time is short once the team arrives, leaving no time to train on site. So training occurs in Madison with facsimile research stations on the property at PSL in rural Stoughton.

“We have set up a real test bed with actual equipment just like they have over there,” explains Farshid Feyzi, research director for PSL.

While this marks the second week of training, a great opportunity to see some hands-on work will be on Wednesday (August 6), when the group will be doing run-throughs of what it’s like to lower a beach ball-sized optical module hundreds of feet under the polar ice.

PSL is a research and development laboratory that offers a range of services — consultation, design, fabrication, and calibration — to both university researchers and the private sector. At its main facility south of Madison, PSL offers modern machine and electronics shops in combination with a staff trained in electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and physics.

While PSL is a major partner in the IceCube project, the group works on projects of all budgets and sizes. In the case of IceCube, there have been several design hurdles. Almost all of the equipment is one of a kind — including a hot water drill that penetrates 2,400 meters below the surface of the ice, as well as those beach ball-sized Digital Optical Modules (DOMs).

“It’s been very exciting. We have generated a world-class facility for producing these detectors. There’s probably nowhere else in the world that can do this as well,” notes Feyzi.

Note to news media: For more information on the event and to make arrangements to visit the facility this Wednesday, please contact John Morgan, PSL Communications Coordinator, at (608) 658-0918.