By Samantha Creech (UNC Asheville Physics major, Astronomy minor)
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to participate in a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. This university’s prestigious astronomy department offers a broad range of research topics, and while I was there, I was granted the opportunity to work on a project for IceCube. IceCube is a telescope located in the south pole. Buried two kilometers deep in the Antarctic ice, it’s optimized to detect neutrinos, which are some of the smallest, most elusive particles that we know of. These tiny particles give us a way to observe high energy phenomena– supernovae, active supermassive black holes, and even the big bang– in a type of detail that light can’t provide. During my time at UW Madison, I was testing one of the parts that might be used to improve the efficiency of future neutrino detectors. I mostly worked in an optics lab, taking data from various tests and comparing it to computer simulations.
Beyond research, I spent much of my time exploring the area. I learned how to windsurf on Lake Mendota, shopped in the country’s largest farmer’s market each Saturday, camped in a nearby state park, and spent evenings on UW Madison’s iconic terrace with the other REU students. My cohort quickly grew into a tight-knit community, and we look forward to reuniting at the American Astronomical Society conference this January. While there, I’ll be presenting a poster on my summer project, hearing talks on the forefront of astronomy, and networking in preparation for graduate school. I can’t emphasize the impact that this program has had on me, and I look forward to seeing how it plays out in my career.