Whittier College Joins the IceCube Collaboration 

November 8, 2021

Credit: Benjamin Eberhardt, IceCube/NSFIceCube, a major physics research group, has voted to include Whittier College.

The IceCube Neutrino Observatory located in Antarctica is designed to observe the cosmos from deep within the South Pole ice. An international group of approximately 300 physicists from 53 institutions in 12 countries are responsible for the scientific research that makes up the IceCube Collaboration. Whittier College is now a member of this elite group, with Assistant Professor of Physics Jordan Hanson serving as institutional lead.  

Hanson’s body of research led to Whittier’s inclusion in the Collaboration. He first conducted research in Antarctica as graduate student at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in 2009. Hanson worked with a team whose goal was to capture neutrinos in their most natural state, which travel with much higher energies than can currently be given to sub-atomic particles on Earth.

“At higher levels, the energy changes the way things interact on a subatomic level,” said Hanson. “When you grab a cosmic ray from space, you’re actually peering into the fundamental laws that govern the universe.”

As part of the IceCube team, Whittier students will have access to IceCube collaboration meetings, data for research projects, and be able to publish under the IceCube collaboration title. 

Currently, Jordan is collaborating with junior Raymond Hartig using the IceCube data.  “Raymond has been helping me develop our signal model for predicting the radio signal from neutrinos," said Hanson. "Now that we are members of IceCube, we can begin developing code that will help us simulate the theoretical model in the current IceCube design, and search and compare with IceCube data.”

Moreover, students will likely perform computational physics with the new computing resources.   

Hanson adds, “IceCube is located beneath the South Pole, within the ice. When neutrinos hit the ice, they leave a flash of UV light and a burst of radio-frequency energy. Students will begin to model the radio signal, as it represents a new way to detect neutrinos at record-breaking energies. Comparing the model to raw data will help us search for real neutrino signals. Observing neutrinos at the highest energies would teach us both about astrophysics, and quantum physics in as-yet untested energy regimes."

Jordan’s own research involves exploring the world beyond our galaxy. 

“The goal of my research is to be the first in history to detect neutrinos from outside the solar system above energies of 100 PeV (peta-electron-volts),” explained Jordan. “Neutrinos at these energies are predicted to originate in other galaxies and represent one of the only ways we can detect matter from other galaxies. Further, studying them would teach us about quantum physics at the highest energies.”

Hanson completed his bachelor’s degree in physics from Yale University and a Ph.D. in physics from UCI.