University of Wisconsin-Madison

IceCube at ScienceWriters 2020



The IceCube Neutrino Observatory was the destination of one of three virtual “field trips” at this year’s virtual ScienceWriters conference.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, possibly the strangest telescope in the world, is made up of over 5,000 basketball-sized light sensors embedded in a cubic kilometer of ice…at the South Pole. While the location is opportune for detecting neutrinos, it is extremely cold and incredibly difficult to access, making it nearly impossible for most people to actually visit the laboratory.

So IceCube’s communications specialist brought this South Pole detector—virtually—to the attendees of the annual ScienceWriters conference this year. A joint meeting of the National Association of Science Writers (NASW) and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW), ScienceWriters is a mix of professional development workshops, briefings on the latest scientific research, extensive networking opportunities, and (usually) field trips—described as “for science writers, by science writers.”

Like the vast majority of conferences and meetings this year, SciWri20 went virtual in response to the coronavirus pandemic. And instead of field trips, lunches-with-scientists, and lab tours typically organized by the host institution of the conference, CASW called on attendees to create a virtual, Zoom-able experience about the science happening in their part of the world. It would “provide a unique opportunity to travel virtually to the many institutions ScienceWriters may never be able to visit,” said CASW in their call for proposals.

It was the perfect opportunity to showcase a facility like IceCube.

So Madeleine O’Keefe, communications specialist for the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC) and the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, submitted a proposal to present IceCube at SciWri20. The proposal was one of three accepted by CASW, and on Thursday, October 8, 2020, O’Keefe and her fellow panelists presented “Exploring the Cosmos from the South Pole Ice: A Virtual Tour of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory.”

After the conference ended on Friday, October 23, the video was released to the public. You can watch it now on YouTube.

A screenshot of the introduction to IceCube, featuring Jocelyn Argueta.
A screenshot of the introduction to IceCube, featuring Jocelyn Argueta.

The presentation opens with a 12-minute introduction to IceCube science from Jocelyn Argueta, a bilingual science communicator based in California and IceCube’s 2019 PolarTREC educator. O’Keefe, Argueta, and Dr. Jim Madsen (WIPAC’s executive director and IceCube’s associate director for education and outreach) wrote the script, and Argueta recorded and edited the video.

The second part of the presentation is a 15-minute tour of the South Pole from IceCube’s current winterovers, Dr. John Hardin and Dr. Yuya Makino. Makino recorded video footage, Hardin wrote the script and recorded the narration to accompany the tour, and O’Keefe edited the video.

Following the tour, O’Keefe presents a new augmented reality app, IceCubeAR, on behalf of IceCube collaborator Dr. Lu Lu and her team. O’Keefe also demos the app live.

In the final portion of the presentation, session attendees had a chance to ask questions of the team.

Check out YouTube to learn about IceCube and visit one of the biggest and strangest telescopes in the world!

A screenshot from the South Pole tour portion of IceCube’s SciWri20 presentation.
A screenshot from the South Pole tour portion of IceCube’s SciWri20 presentation.
A screenshot from the IceCubeAR portion of IceCube’s SciWri20 presentation.
A screenshot from the IceCubeAR portion of IceCube’s SciWri20 presentation.