By Ashley Yeager
“We hadn’t done anything by then,” he said during a Nov. 9 physics colloquium as he described the experiment called IceCube.
Because Halzen and his team were the clear winners in a race, which began in the 1970s, to build a kilometer-wide bucket to capture particles called neutrinos.
To cover just over a half mile of Antarctica with such a detector, Halzen’s team engineered 5,000 neutrino buckets to sit on 86 electronic wires, a bit like strings of Christmas lights. The team then fed each string a mile and a half into the ice near the South Pole.
The idea was that the instrument would detect blue light coming from the reaction of a single neutrino crashing into an ice atom. From that reaction, the physicists could start to tease apart where neutrinos and other high-energy showers of particles, called cosmic rays, come from. Now, the team has also begun adding to the instrument so it can probe what dark matter and dark energy are.
Halzen said studying neutrinos is a lot like taking an X-ray, rather than a normal photo, of the galaxy and the universe. He added that even though there are some promising data points in IceCube’s preliminary scans, no one should get too excited. The neutrino buckets haven’t really seen anything, yet.
It’s a bit like the Large Hadron Collider not seeing the Higgs boson, he said. If scientists don’t see what they are looking for, it will be really interesting and may call for a re-write of the physics textbooks.
But, Halzen said, “I can tell you, we want to see something,” and, doing it before next year, when the discovery of cosmic rays turns a century old, would fulfill another of his physics dreams.