WIPAC brings ice drilling to UW–Madison Day at the Wisconsin State Fair

Cooling down a hot day with blocks of ice

Visitors learned about the South Pole and practiced ice drilling. credit: WIPAC

UW–Day at the Wisconsin State Fair last Wednesday drew crowds of badger fans to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, for a day of hands-on activities. Volunteers from WIPAC were there to mix fun and learning by engaging visitors in “ice drilling,” an activity using pipettes and warm water to drill holes into a stack of ice blocks set up on a picnic table. The activity is designed to mimic the process of constructing IceCube, an enormous neutrino telescope buried in the ice at the South Pole.

Making neutrinos cool

The ice drilling activity is smaller in scale to the real process, but still big fun. credit: WIPAC

Many of the fair-goers indicated that they were not aware of IceCube and its connections to Wisconsin. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is comprised of an array of sensors that detect the interactions of neutrinos, tiny particles that travel through Earth from far-off regions of the universe. Data from the interactions is processed and studied within the IceCube Collaboration, an international group of nearly 300 scientists from 12 countries. The group at UW–Madison manages the facility itself.

Showcasing the ice drilling process provided an opportunity for WIPAC volunteers to briefly explain the project and the science involved. “It’s great to share this project with people,” says Lauren Boritzke, a member of the education and outreach team at WIPAC. “We’re all contributing to these projects, and it’s important to share the science with the public. Events like the Wisconsin State Fair allow us to make sure that the public finds astrophysics approachable and exciting.”

Seeing the universe in new ways

WIPAC volunteers enjoying UW–Madison day at the Wisconsin State Fair. credit: WIPAC

Advances in science will impact our future, and exploring the unknown aspects of the universe is a step toward making important scientific breakthroughs.

UW-Day was a success as it connected IceCube researchers and students with the public. People were excited to hear how Wisconsin is involved in cutting-edge science at the South Pole, an exciting and foreign landscape.