Origins ANTARCTICA, Scientific Journeys from McMurdo to the Pole
Ideas Tools Place Live Field Notes
  © PPer Olof Hulth
  Bubbles see rising from below as the camera following the module hits the surface of the water.

A literary essay about AMANDA by Francis Halzen
page 6

Still, convincing donors of the soundness of our idea was no simple matter: I was only a theorist, after all, with no experience building anything, and my collaborators, at least in the beginning, were very talented but very junior physicists at the University of California, Berkeley. Nevertheless, NSF was willing to give us the benefit of the doubt, and within a few years we had joined forces with eight other universities and three research laboratories in Belgium, Germany, Sweden and the United States. In 1990, as proof of principle, one of our teams sank a 200-meter-long strand of three photomultipliers into the packed snow of Greenland. The toy experiment detected muons. Then, in the Antarctic summer of 1992, our work began in earnest.

AS I WRITE, it is ten degrees below zero Fahrenheit outside my office in Madison, and I am dressed just warmly enough to be slightly cold. In most places, I think, people have made an art of underdressing in winter. But not in Antarctica. Faced with temperatures that regularly dip to negative fifty degrees Fahrenheit, even on a summer’s day, our drillers and engineers wear outfits akin to the space suits worn by astronauts on the moon. They live in a comfortable base camp with a wonderful professional chef, and the few times they expose themselves to the elements are when they relax themselves in the pools of hot water created by the AMANDA drills.

In the heroic early days of AMANDA, before a heated, portable hut was built for each drilling site, there were some tough stretches. Teams of ten people sometimes worked up to twenty-four hours without a break—often without gloves when assembling delicate components. But on the whole, the work has been astonishingly unadventurous.

The true challenges have been technical and logistical. Typically we fly 100,000 pounds of cargo and forty people from Christchurch, New Zealand, to the South Pole each summer—enough to fill twenty Hercules C-130 transport planes. It is a massive undertaking, but one accomplished with the utmost efficiency: where Antarctic research is concerned, there is no margin for excess baggage of any kind—be it fiber-optic cable, canisters of fuel or theorists with no real business on the ice.

back page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 next
Origins Exploratorium ANTARCTICA


© Exploratorium