IceCube collaborator and UW–Madison assistant professor of physics Lu Lu received a 2023 International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) Early Career Scientist Prize “for her contributions to the development of high energy neutrino astronomy in the PeV energy region.” Lu accepted the award on July 27 during the opening ceremony at the 38th International Cosmic Ray Conference (ICRC) held in Nagoya, Japan.
Early Career Scientist Prizes are given to early career scientists within each IUPAP commission who have up to eight years of postdoctoral research experience and have made significant contributions to the cosmic ray field. Lu is a recipient of the Early Career Scientist Prize in the Commission on Astroparticle Physics (C4).
Her PhD work focused on developing a novel technique to search for ultra-high-energy photons using data from the Pierre Auger Observatory. She also played a leading role in the initial design of the “Dual optical sensors in an Ellipsoid Glass for Gen2” (D-Egg), a two-PMT optical module for the IceCube Upgrade.
Lu is currently an assistant professor of physics at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC) at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her current research focuses on diffuse high-energy astrophysical/cosmogenic neutrinos from TeV to EeV, Galactic PeVatron detection in the context of multimessenger observations, and the exploration of potential transient ultra-high-energy sources.
She is actively involved in IceCube outreach initiatives and has pioneered the development of an app that provides IceCube real-time alerts via augmented reality on mobile devices. Currently, she serves as co-lead of the diffuse science working group in IceCube and is one of three representatives of the physical science group of US-SCAR (Scientific Committee of Antarctic Research).
“I would like to express my deep appreciation for my collaborators and for those who work on foundational tasks such as reconstructions and calibrations, as their efforts behind the scenes make groundbreaking discoveries possible,” said Lu. “As early career scientists, we bear the responsibility of continuing and expanding experiments in the particle astrophysics field. We must collaborate and work together to ensure that the next generation of young scientists will have exciting discoveries to make.”
IceCube shows Milky Way galaxy is a neutrino desert
The Milky Way galaxy is an awe-inspiring feature of the night sky, dominating all wavelengths of light and viewable with the naked eye as a hazy band of stars stretching from horizon to horizon. Now,
In a June 30 article in the journal Science, the IceCube Collaboration — an international group of more than 350 scientists — presents this new evidence of high-energy neutrino emission from the Milky Way. The findings indicate that the Milky Way produces far fewer neutrinos than the average distant galaxies.
“What’s intriguing is that, unlike the case for light of any wavelength, in neutrinos, the universe outshines the nearby sources in our own galaxy,” says Francis Halzen, a professor of physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and principal investigator at IceCube.
The IceCube search focused on the southern sky, where the bulk of neutrino emission from the galactic plane is expected near the center of the galaxy. However, until now, a background of neutrinos and other particles produced by cosmic-ray interactions with the Earth’s atmosphere made it difficult to parse out neutrinos originating from galactic sources — a significant challenge compounded by relatively sparse neutrino production in general.
Congrats to Ke Fang, assistant professor of physics, WIPAC faculty member, and HAWC spokesperson, on earning an NSF CAREER award! CAREER awards are NSF’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.
Fang’s award is sponsored by the NSF Windows on the Universe: Multimessenger Astrophysics program. In multimessenger astrophysics, scientists search for multiple high energy signals to identify their sources and learn more about the makeup of our universe. WIPAC hosts both the IceCube neutrino telescope and the HAWC gamma ray telescope, and Fang says she is excited to have access to high-quality data from both. In her NSF proposal, she plans to use that data in two ways.
“One is evolving novel data analysis techniques to study the problems that remain outstanding, such as the source of high-energy neutrinos,” Fang says. “The second part is once we have these data analysis results, then we’ll use numerical simulations to understand our observations.”
In addition to an innovative research component, NSF proposals require that the research has broader societal impacts, such as working toward greater inclusion in STEM or increasing public understanding of science. Once again, Fang finds herself well-positioned at WIPAC, where the outreach team has developed Master Classes, a one-day event where high school students come to WIPAC, spend time with scientists, and learn about topics not typically covered in high school physics class. Currently, the students learn about IceCube’s instrumentation and how to analyze the complex detector data.
“The course is already well designed, but from my perspective, I use a lot of numerical simulation in my research, so one thing I proposed to do is that I would design a module that would incorporate some of these modern numerical study techniques into the master class,” Fang says. “The students will now learn how to study physics using supercomputers, using numerical simulations.”
Help IceCube decode signals from outer space in new Citizen Science project
Every second, about 100 trillion neutrinos pass through your body unnoticed. At the South Pole, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory detects these elusive particles and works to identify their astronomical origins to help unlock mysteries of the universe. Such an undertaking requires a massive amount of data, with one terabyte of data recorded daily by IceCube. But organizing the data can be labor intensive. This is where the public can help.
Starting today, volunteers from anywhere can participate in the Name that Neutrino project led by IceCube researchers at Drexel University, which asks users to categorize IceCube data. Through the Zooniverse platform, volunteers can join in from the convenience of their own computer or phone. Name that Neutrino is open to everyone and will run for about 10 weeks.
Click “Tutorial” to learn about how to classify signals.
Watch the brief video and pick one of the five categories for signals.
Check out the “Field Guide” for more examples and information.
UW–Madison physicists key in revealing neutrinos emanating from galactic neighbor with a gigantic black hole
On Earth, billions of subatomic particles called neutrinos pass through us every second, but we never notice because they rarely interact with matter. Because of this, neutrinos can travel straight paths over vast distances unimpeded, carrying information about their cosmic origins.
Although most of these aptly named “ghost” particles detected on Earth originate from the Sun or our own atmosphere, some neutrinos come from the cosmos, far beyond our galaxy. These neutrinos, called astrophysical neutrinos, can provide valuable insight into some of the most powerful objects in the universe.
For the first time, an international team of scientists has found evidence of high-energy astrophysical neutrinos emanating from the galaxy NGC 1068 in the constellation Cetus.
The detection was made by the National Science Foundation-supported IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a 1-billion-ton neutrino telescope made of scientific instruments and ice situated 1.5-2.5 kilometers below the surface at the South Pole.
These new results, to be published tomorrow (Nov. 4, 2022) in Science, were shared in a presentation given today at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery.
“One neutrino can single out a source. But only an observation with multiple neutrinos will reveal the obscured core of the most energetic cosmic objects,” says Francis Halzen, a University of Wisconsin–Madison professor of physics and principal investigator of the IceCube project. “IceCube has accumulated some 80 neutrinos of teraelectronvolt energy from NGC 1068, which are not yet enough to answer all our questions, but they definitely are the next big step toward the realization of neutrino astronomy.”
Back in 2013, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory—a cubic-kilometer neutrino detector embedded in Antarctic ice—announced the first observation of high-energy (above 100 TeV) neutrinos originating from outside our solar system, spawning a new age in astronomy. Four years later, on September 22, 2017, a high-energy neutrino event was detected coincident with a gamma-ray flare from a cosmic particle accelerator, a blazar known as TXS 0506+056. The coincident observation provided the first evidence for an extragalactic source of high-energy neutrinos.
The identification of this source was possible thanks to IceCube’s real-time high-energy neutrino alert program, which notifies the community of directions and energies of individual neutrinos that are most likely to have come from astrophysical sources. These alerts trigger follow-up observations of electromagnetic waves from radio up to gamma-ray, aimed at pinpointing a possible astrophysical source of high-energy neutrinos. However, the sources of the vast majority of the measured diffuse flux of astrophysical neutrinos still remain a mystery, as do how many of those sources exist. Another mystery is whether the neutrino sources are steady or variable over time and, if variable, whether they vary over long or short time scales.
In a paper recently submitted to The Astrophysical Journal, the IceCube Collaboration presents a follow-up search that looked for additional, lower-energy events in the direction of the high-energy alert events. The analysis looked at low- and high-energy events from 2011-2020 and was conducted to search for the coincidence in different time scales from 1,000 seconds up to one decade. Although the researchers did not find an excess of low-energy events across the searched time scales, they were able to constrain the abundance of astrophysical neutrino sources in the universe.
This research also delves into the question of whether the astrophysical neutrino flux measured by IceCube is produced by a large number of weak sources or a small number of strong sources. To distinguish between the two possibilities, the researchers developed a statistical method that used two different sets of neutrinos: 1) alert events that have a high probability of being from an astrophysical source and 2) the gamma-ray follow-up (GFU) sample, where only about one to five out of 1,000 events per day are astrophysical.
“If there are a lot of GFU events in the direction of the alerts, that’s a sign that neutrino sources are producing a lot of detectable neutrinos, which would mean there are only a few, bright sources,” explained recent UW–Madison PhD student Alex Pizzuto, a lead on the analysis who is now a software engineer at Google. “If you don’t see a lot of GFU events in the direction of alerts, this is an indication of the opposite, that there are many, dim sources that are responsible for the flux of neutrinos that IceCube detects.”
They interpreted the results using a simulation tool called FIRESONG, which looks at populations of neutrino sources and calculates the flux from each of these sources. The simulation was then used to determine if the simulated sources might be responsible for producing a neutrino event.
“We did not find a clear excess of low-energy events associated with the high-energy alert events on any of the three time scales we analyzed,” said Justin Vandenbroucke, a physics professor at UW–Madison and colead of the analysis. “This implies that there are many astrophysical neutrino sources because, if there were few, we would detect additional events accompanying the high-energy alerts.”
Future analyses will take advantage of larger IceCube data sets and higher quality data from improved calibration methods. With the completion of the larger next-generation telescope, IceCube-Gen2, researchers will be able to detect even more dim neutrino sources. Even knowing the abundance of sources could provide important constraints on the identity of the sources.
“The future is very exciting as this analysis shows that planned improvements might reveal more astrophysical sources and populations,” said Abhishek Desai, postdoctoral fellow at UW–Madison and co-lead of the analysis. “This will be due to better event localization, which is already being studied and should be optimized in the near future.”
+ info “Constraints on populations of neutrino sources from searches in the directions of IceCube neutrino alerts,” The IceCube Collaboration: R. Abbasi et al. Submitted to TheAstrophysical Journal. arxiv.org/abs/2210.04930.
Search for neutrino emission associated with LIGO/Virgo gravitational waves
Gravitational waves (GWs) are a signature for some of the most energetic phenomena in the universe, which cause ripples in space-time that travel at the speed of light. These events, spurred by massive accelerating objects, act as cosmic messengers that carry with them clues to their origins. They are also probable sources for highly energetic neutrinos, nearly massless cosmic messengers hurtling through space unimpeded. Because neutrinos rarely interact with surrounding matter, they can reveal phenomena that are otherwise unobserved with electromagnetic waves. These high-energy neutrinos are detected by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a cubic-kilometer detector enveloped in Antarctic ice at the South Pole.
Both GWs and neutrinos are recently introduced messengers in astronomy and have yet to be detected by the same source. Such a major discovery would not only shed light on the sources of cosmic rays but would also help in understanding the most energetic processes in the universe. By coordinating traditional observations (from radio to gamma rays) with these new messengers, researchers can gain deeper insights into astrophysical sources that were unobtainable before.
Previously, the IceCube Collaboration looked for joint emission of GWs and high-energy neutrinos with data collected by IceCube, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), and the Virgo gravitational wave detector. These results were from GWs observed during the first two observing runs (O1 and O2) of LIGO and Virgo. IceCube researchers from the University of Wisconsin–Madison and Columbia University conducted an updated analysis of GWs from the third observing run (O3) of the LIGO/Virgo detectors. The increased number of GWs improved the researchers’ overall analysis. Their findings were recently submitted to TheAstrophysical Journal.
The Department of Physics is happy to announce that Professor Brian Rebel has been promoted to full professor.
Rebel is a high energy experimentalist whose research focuses on accelerator-based neutrino physics. He joined the department as an associate professor with a joint appointment at Fermilab in 2018, where he is now a senior scientist.
“Professor Rebel is a leader in neutrino science, making major contributions to DUNE experiments and having published recently on four different neutrino collaborations,” says Mark Eriksson, physics department chair. “The department is thrilled about his promotion to full professor.”
Rebel has established himself as a leader in the Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility (LBNF) and Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (DUNE). DUNE is an international experiment for neutrino science and proton decay studies that consists of two neutrino detectors — one near Fermilab in Illinois, and one in South Dakota. The experiment will be installed in LBNF, which will produce the neutrino beam. Rebel is currently the DUNE Anode Plane Assembly (APA) consortium manager, and has previously led Fermilab’s DUNE Science Group.
Since 2005, Rebel has also been involved in Fermilab’s NOvA experiment, which uses precision measurements to investigate the flavor oscillations of neutrinos that are not predicted by the Standard Model. He is currently serving as the co-convener of the analysis group searching for oscillations of active neutrino flavors into a sterile neutrino.
Rebel is currently training three graduate students and two postdoctoral scholars, and expects to graduate his first UW–Madison doctoral student soon. Additionally, he supervised several trainees at Fermilab before he came to UW–Madison. He has enjoyed teaching both introductory physics as well as physics courses for non-majors, and is an effective and engaging teacher.
Congrats, Prof. Rebel, on this well-deserved recognition!
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a massive astroparticle physics experiment located at the South Pole, will be featured in two upcoming documentaries about neutrinos produced for the BBC and PBS NOVA.
Sometimes called the world’s biggest and strangest telescope, IceCube comprises over 5,000 light sensors deployed in a cubic kilometer of ice at the South Pole. Despite its inhospitable environment, the South Pole’s abundance of ice makes it an ideal location for detecting neutrinos: tiny fundamental particles that could reveal unseen parts of the universe.
For these documentaries, IceCube staff from the experiment’s headquarters at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center (WIPAC), a research center of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, captured video footage at the South Pole. During the austral summer of 2019, Kael Hanson, John Hardin, Matt Kauer, John Kelley, and Yuya Makino recorded video at the bottom of the world as they conducted annual maintenance and other work on the observatory. The footage was then sent “up north” for use in the two different documentaries.
The BBC documentary, “Neutrino: Hunting the Ghost Particle,” will premiere on BBC Four on Wednesday, September 22 from 9:00 – 10:00 pm BST. It is described as “an astonishing tale of perseverance and ingenuity that reveals how scientists have battled against the odds for almost a century to detect and decode the neutrino, the smallest and strangest particle of matter in the universe.” The documentary will feature footage and interviews from IceCube and will discuss the experiment’s role in neutrino astronomy.
PBS NOVA will feature IceCube and its science in its “Particles Unknown” documentary premiering on Wednesday, October 6 at 9:00 pm CDT. IceCube will appear near the end of the program, which is also about the hunt for neutrinos, “the universe’s most common—yet most elusive and baffling—particle,” and includes an interview with Hanson, who is also IceCube’s director of operations and the director of WIPAC.
Learn more about IceCube and neutrinos at IceCube’s website.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory is funded primarily by the National Science Foundation (OPP-1600823 and PHY-1913607) and is headquartered at the Wisconsin IceCube Particle Astrophysics Center, a research center of UW–Madison in the United States. IceCube’s research efforts, including critical contributions to the detector operation, are funded by agencies in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The IceCube EPSCoR Initiative (IEI) also receives additional support through NSF-EPSCoR-2019597.IceCube construction was also funded with significant contributions from the National Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS & FWO) in Belgium; the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Research Foundation (DFG) in Germany; the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat, and the Swedish Research Council in Sweden; and the University of Wisconsin–Madison Research Fund in the U.S.
Balantekin named co-PI on NSF grant to solve cosmic mystery
A team of University of Wisconsin–Madison and New York Institute of Technology physicists has secured a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in an attempt to solve one of science’s greatest mysteries: how the universe formed from stardust.
Many of the universe’s elements, including the calcium found in human bones and iron in skyscrapers, originated from ancient stars. However, scientists have long sought to understand the cosmic processes that formed other elements—those with undetermined origins. Now, UW–Madison professor of physics Baha Balantekin and co-principal investigator Eve Armstrong assistant professor of physics at New York Institute of Technology, will perform the first known research project that uses weather prediction techniques to explain these events. Their revolutionary work will be funded by a two-year $299,998 NSF EAGER grant, an award that supports early-stage exploratory projects on untested but potentially transformative ideas that could be considered “high risk/high payoff.”
While the Big Bang created the first and lightest elements (hydrogen and helium), the next and heavier elements (up to iron on the periodic table) formed later inside ancient, massive stars. When these stars exploded, their matter catapulted into space, seeding that space with elements. Eventually, stardust matter from these supernovae formed the sun and planets, and over billions of years, Earth’s matter coalesced into the first life forms. However, the origins of elements heavier than iron, such as gold and copper, remain unknown. While they may have formed during a supernova explosion, current computational techniques render it difficult to comprehensively study the physics of these events. In addition, supernovae are rare, occurring about once every 50 years, and the only existing data is from the last explosion in 1987.
Large information-rich data sets are obtained from increasingly sophisticated experiments and observations on complicated nonlinear systems. The techniques of Statistical Data Assimilation (SDA) have been developed to handle very nonlinear systems with sparsely sampled data. SDA techniques, akin to the path integral methods commonly used in physics, are used in fields ranging from weather prediction to neurobiology. Armstrong and Balantekin will apply the SDA methods to the vast amount of data accumulated so far in neutrino physics and astrophysics.
With simulated data, in preparation for the next supernova event, the team will use data assimilation to predict whether the supernova environment could have given rise to some heavy elements. If successful, these “forecasts” may allow scientists to determine which elements formed from supernova stardust.
This project will provide an opportunity to the Physics graduate students interested in neutrinos to master an interdisciplinary technique with many other applications.
“Physicists have sought for years to understand how, in seconds, giant stars exploded and created the substances that led to our existence. A technique from another scientific field, meteorology, may help to explain an important piece of this puzzle that traditional tools render difficult to access,” says Armstrong.
The NSF is an independent agency of the U.S. government that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health. NSF funding accounts for approximately 27 percent of the total federal budget for basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities.