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UW physicist receives American Ingenuity Award for IceCube effort

October 17, 2014 By Terry Devitt

Photo: IceCube Neutrino Observatory

Smithsonian magazine is honoring UW–Madison physicist Francis Halzen for his decades-long work in building IceCube, a massive neutrino telescope under the Antarctic ice.

Photo: Ian Rees, IceCube/NSF

Francis Halzen, the University of Wisconsin–Madison physicist who was the driving force behind the giant neutrino telescope known as IceCube at the South Pole, has been named a winner of the 2014 American Ingenuity Award.

The award is one of ten conferred in nine broad categories by the editors of Smithsonian magazine. Other winners include singer-songwriter Rosanne Cash in the performing arts category, engineer Kimberly Bryant in the social progress category, and documentarian Bill Morrison for historical scholarship.

Photo: Francis Halzen

Francis Halzen

Photo: EL PAÍS/Bernardo Pérez

Halzen’s award is in the area of physical sciences and was presented last night via video link by theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author Stephen Hawking at a gala event at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Halzen is being honored for his decades-long effort to build a massive, cubic kilometer telescope under the Antarctic ice to detect cosmic neutrinos. Last year, the telescope yielded the first evidence of cosmic neutrinos, nearly massless high-energy particles thought to come from cosmic sources such as supernovae, black holes and the violent cores of galaxies. The work opened a new field of astronomy.

“When I submitted my acceptance speech the organizers complained that it was too short! But the essential part was already there: Typically, results emerge after following meandering paths, dead ends and plain mistakes,” Halzen said by e-mail. “This was certainly the case when we developed the IceCube concept and built it. This award is dedicated to the many people who contributed to IceCube by making the critical contributions at its many critical junctures.”

Halzen has spent nearly two decades leading the effort to build and operate the telescope, which is composed of more than 5,000 optical detectors sunk deep into the ice beneath the South Pole. Constructed with support from the National Science Foundation and an international consortium representing scientific agencies from nearly a dozen countries, IceCube is the fulcrum of a collaboration that includes more than 275 physicists and engineers from around the world.

See Smithsonian’s “Superhero” treatment of Halzen’s work