IceCube discovery selected as “Breakthrough of the Year”

The renowned British science magazine “Physics World” selected the IceCube collaboration’s discovery of the first high-energy cosmic neutrinos as the most significant scientific breakthrough in 2013. Between May 2010 and May 2012, with their one cubic kilometre large detector at the South Pole, the IceCube scientists successfully managed to capture a total of 28 neutrinos with energies greater than 30 teraelectron volts (TeV), two of them with an energy of more than 1000 TeV. Only some weeks ago, the research group published this first evidence of highest-energy astrophysical neutrinos in the scientific journal Science. This success was now awarded by Physics World. “The ability to detect cosmic neutrinos is a remarkable achievement that gives astronomers a completely new way of studying the cosmos,” Hamish Johnston, editor of physicsworld.com, justified the selection of the journalists. “The judges of the 2013 award were also impressed with the IceCube collaboration’s ability to build and operate a huge and extremely sensitive detector in the most remote and inhospitable place on Earth.”

IceCube includes a total of 5160 photosensitive detectors, the so-called digital optical modules hanging from 86 steel cables which are deployed up to 2.5 kilometres deep in the ice and explore a whole cubic kilometre of Antarctic ice. They measure the weak flashes of light which are generated by the extremely rare collisions of neutrinos with the Antarctic ice. The experiment aims to use the nearly massless neutrinos as unique messenger particles to detect energy-rich events in the universe, for example supernova explosions or other cosmic particle accelerators. After a construction period of seven years in total, the full-size gigantic detector takes data since the end of 2010.

The international IceCube team consists of about 275 scientists from eleven countries. In Germany, apart from DESY nine universities participate in the collaboration. The German partners not only developed and built large part of the IceCube optical measurement electronics; also at the data analysis they were among the first ones to hit upon these highest-energy particles. For their theses, two young doctoral students in Aachen and Zeuthen analysed data of the only partly installed IceCube detector and found first hints of a surplus of high-energy neutrinos. One of them is Anne Schukraft who will be awarded the Hertha Sponer Prize 2014 from the German Physical Society for these analyses.

Since 2011, all German astroparticle physicists are united in the Helmholtz Alliance for Astroparticle Physics and join forces to investigate the young research field located at the interfaces of astrophysics, particle physics, astronomy and cosmology. Apart from other astrophysical experiments, they are planning to extend their ice cube with PINGU, a densification of the optical modules in the central IceCube area. With this project, the scientists want to increase the measuring sensitivity for low neutrino energies and measure neutrino oscillations. Another idea is to enlarge the existing detector with about 100 additional DOM strings to be arranged in a wide grid around IceCube. This will significantly enhance the measuring sensitivity of the detector for those highest-energy particles which now brought the IceCube scientists the Breakthrough of the Year 2013.

Further Information:

Press Release IceCube discovery
Research Top Ten 2013
of Physics World
Friday, 13.12., 17 h: Google Hangout on the Physics World youtube channel