UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls

NM Group

From left to right: Samantha Pedek, Jongil Jung, Paul Evenson, Jim Madsen, Eric Thuma, and Dylan Frikken pick up extreme cold weather gear at the clothing distribution center in Christchurch, New Zealand, before heading to McMurdo Station at the South Pole.

UW-River Falls students living and working in extreme cold of Antarctica

January 5, 2017--The dream of living and working in Antarctica will soon be a reality for University of Wisconsin-River Falls physics students Dylan Frikken and Samantha Pedek.  They were scheduled to arrive at McMurdo Station on the coast of the frozen continent January 3, but experienced weather delays in New Zealand. Participating in a National Science Foundation project that studies solar storms using detectors at McMurdo Station and the Amundsen-Scott Station at the South Pole, the students will be a part of the longest continuously running experiment in Antarctica that began in 1961.

The project studies the occasional spasms in the sun that produce a burst of high energy particles. These extreme solar storms create continuous, invisible streams of high energy particles known as cosmic rays. They can damage electronics, and even disable the electrical grid.  The Antarctic research team is trying to understand the spasms, and see if the measurements they make with the neutron monitors can provide early alerts.

UW-River Falls Physics Professor and Department Chair Jim Madsen is leading the nearly month-long research adventure. Other team members include high school teacher Eric Thuma from Michigan, Professor Paul Evenson from the University of Delaware, and Professor Jongil Jung, Chungnam National University, South Korea. Madsen and UW-River Falls colleague and Assistant Professor Suruj Seunarine, both Antarctica veterans, feel privileged to bring students and teachers to the "ice," the nickname for the frozen continent.

"The rush of the cold air, and the beautiful vista that appears when the plane lands on the ice and the big cargo door swings open, is something you never forget," said Madsen. The goal of this trip is to carefully crate the two remaining sections of the McMurdo detectors in preparation for shipping. Next season they will be shipped to and installed at the Korean Antarctic base.

Pedek, of Muscoda, has thought about this trip for more than two years.

"Realizing this huge dream is extremely humbling," she said. "This is the experience of a lifetime, and it's wonderful to see that with hard work, dreams really do come true."  

US Marine Corps veteran Frikken added "It's hard to believe I have this opportunity as an undergraduate, and that with just one more flight, this incredible experience will start."

This is the fifth deployment for Madsen, who also took a student to the Antarctic's McMurdo Station two years ago, and two students to McMurdo and the South Pole last season. Sign up for webcasts on January 10, 17, and 20 each at 12:30 p.m. by the team at McMurdo station at wipac.wisc.edu/learn/innovate.

Follow a journal of the group's adventures at https://www.polartrec.com/expeditions/antarctic-neutron-monitors-for-solar-study.

For more information, email Madsen at james.madsen@uwrf.edu.

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