Breakthrough of the Year for IceCube

The Antarctic observatory was selected for both the results obtained with the first observation of cosmic neutrinos but also to have overcome the many challenges of creating and managing a colossal detector deep in the ice at the South Pole. The 2013 Breakthrough of the Year had been conferred to the IceCube assignment by the British magazine Physics World.




The Antarctic observatory has been designated for making the first surveillance of cosmic neutrinos, but as well for overpowering the many tests of generating and functioning to a gigantic detector deep under the frost at the South Pole.

The international project IceCube, for the search of high-energy universe, and in particular the study of neutrinos, was declared Breakthrough of the Year in 2013 by the British magazine Physics World.

After seven years of hard work in the construction of the IceCube Neutrino Observatory at South Pole, it was finally done in December 2010. But the notion of a giant detector covered up in the ice was perceived a long time ago. In the ‘90s, was built a detector as a proof of idea for IceCube, the AMANDA detector. In January 2005, IceCube already touched 2,450 meters deep in the Antarctic ice sheet; the first sensors of it touched that deepness.

“The ability to detect cosmic neutrinos is a remarkable achievement that gives astronomers a completely new way of studying the cosmos,” says Hamish Johnston, editor of “But the judges of the 2013 prize were also impressed by the ability of collaboration necessary to achieve and maintain an immense and extremely sensitive detector in a place so remote and inhospitable of our planet, the Earth.”

IceCube is the largest neutrino detector in the world. Completed in December 2010 after seven years of work at a cost of 271 million dollars, is the result of a large international collaboration supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation. It consists of 5,160 optical sensors, divided into 86 chains embedded in a cubic kilometer of ice under the South Pole.




The ice itself is a component of this observatory, where the neutrinos are detected through tiny flashes of blue light, called Cherenkov light produced when neutrinos interact with the ice.

Principal Investigator of IceCube is Francis Halzen, University of Wisconsin: “I never imagined that science would be exciting in the construction of the detector.” “The challenges are many, from deciphering the optical properties of ice that we never saw, drill a hole at a depth of 2.5 kilometers in just two days, and then repeat it for 86 times. The success of IceCube relies on the efforts of hundreds of people around the world.”

The Antarctic ice has become the ideal way to search for high-energy neutrinos that, after traveling through the universe over millions – even billions – of years, casually interact with the nucleus of a molecule of ice.

The lead institution is UW–Madison and the efforts of hundreds of people around the world relies in the  collaboration of 275 physicists and engineers from the U.S., Korea, U.K, Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Belgium, Japan and Sweden.

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