Technion physicist travels to Antarctica on research trip

Dr. Hagar Landsman participates in the "Ice Cube" project for conducting research on sub-atomic particles.

antarctica ice 88 (photo credit: )
antarctica ice 88
(photo credit: )
The Technion's Dr. Hagar Landsman, wearing thick gloves and a fur-lined red parka, is the only Israeli participating in the "Ice Cube" project in Antarctica. She and physicists from other parts of the world are conducting research on sub-atomic particles called neutrinos. Landsman is completing a month at the southern tip of the Earth - for the second year in a row - helping to build a giant telescope for astrophysical research. "The conditions here are not easy," she says. "It's very cold and dry, and there isn't enough oxygen. In this season of the year, there is daylight round the clock, the rooms are tiny and one can shower only twice a week for two minutes. "It was hard to get here, taking a minimum of four days, depending on the weather. Telephone and e-mail contact is limited to the time when a satellite is overhead. But thanks to the scientific challenge, I am overcoming the difficulties, just like the wonderful 200 people who are manning our research station." Landsman is doing her post-doctoral work in Wisconsin. Since her husband Adi, a Technion graduate, is also working, her mother is visiting from Israel to take care of her four-year-old daughter Tamar. She has told Tamar she is studying penguins because "they mean more to toddlers than neutrinos," she says with amusement. Neutrinos are basic particles created by astrophysical processes that react with material after traveling long distances without being absorbed. This provides information on astrophysical phenomena. To increase the chances of measuring neutrinos, a very large sensor is needed. With luck, neutrinos will react to the material to create a charged particle that travels faster than the speed of light inside the material and releases weak light. Measuring this weak light in an opaque sensor testifies to the existence of the neutrinos. To build a neutron sensor, Landsman says, a great deal of translucent and dark material is needed - for example, ice at great depths - "and there is no place like Antarctica to find it." When the "Ice Cube" device is completed in a few years, it will be built from 5,000 highly sensitive light sensors, each as big as a basketball and weighing 15 kilograms. These will be spread over a square kilometer. With a special drill, Landsman and her colleagues are making deep pits 2.5 kilometers down into the ice and inserting a chain of 60 sensors into each one. Placement must be done very carefully so the scientists can properly analyze the data, and their proper functioning must be ensured because they cannot be removed and fixed. Landsman was responsible for checking the sensors before they were sent to Antarctica and examines them before they are placed in the ice. She also is analyzing accumulated data and comparing them to those produced in simulations and theoretical models. In the last few months, she has also been working on developing the next generation of neutrino sensors based on radio-wave sensors.