IceCube is a particle detector at the South Pole that records the interactions of a nearly massless sub-atomic particle called the neutrino. IceCube searches for neutrinos from the most violent astrophysical sources: events like exploding stars, gamma ray bursts, and cataclysmic phenomena involving black holes and neutron stars.
Matthias Danninger from Stockholm University on one of the sensors immersed in ice. Photo: Chad Finley
The IceCube telescope is a powerful tool to search for dark matter, and could reveal the new physical processes associated with the enigmatic origin of the highest energy particles in nature. In addition, exploring the background of neutrinos produced in the atmosphere, IceCube studies the neutrinos themselves; their energies far exceed those produced by accelerator beams. IceCube is the world's largest neutrino detector, encompassing a cubic kilometre of ice.
The IceCube Neutrino Observatory was completed in December 2010, after seven years of construction at the South Pole.
“It was tough at times, with demanding physical work outdoors in adverse weather conditions,” says Stockholm University Professor Emeritus and former spokesman for the IceCube project, Per Olof Hulth, who worked at the South Pole on eleven separate occasions.
The idea of a huge detector buried in the ice was first conceived many years back. In the 1990s, the AMANDA detector was built as a proof of concept for IceCube, but by January 2005 the first sensors of IceCube had already reached 2,450 meters below the Antarctic ice sheet.
In the seven years from 2004 to 2010, 5,160 optical modules on 86 cable strings were submerged to a depth of 2,450 metres. Approximately 1,000 of the modules were built in Sweden.
The research groups in Stockholm and Uppsala have contributed significantly to the success of the IceCube project, both in instrumentation and personnel. The project has received financial support from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, the Swedish Polar Research Secretariat and Swedish Research Council.
“It's amazing that we have now, after 20 years of work, managed to open a new window on the universe that no one has previously looked through,” says Per Olof Hulth.
"The success of IceCube builds on the efforts of hundreds of IceCube collaborators around the world - from the design and the deployment in a harsh environment, the proof-of-concept with the AMANDA prototype to data harvesting and physics analysis,” says current spokesperson, Olga Botner (Uppsala University). "To be named the top breakthrough of the year ultimately honors these efforts in a superb way."