Way Coooooool


The South Pole conjures up images of a godforsaken frozen wasteland. Any mention of the earths’ bottom end makes me think of those awful penguin movies – the ones that are supposed to teach us the true value of family. In reality those lecherous penguins hook up with a new squeeze every year. That isn’t monotony monogamy. Its a wasteland full of tarty birds.

A new squeeze each year.

Tarty birds

Its also a white back drop for intrepid teams of wanna be documentary film makers pushing their bodies, minds and souls to the absolute limit with some ridiculous challenge like pulling a year’s worth of supplies over thousands of kilometres of ice on foot. Why Oh Why?

Prince Harry recently completed such a mission for charity. What a guy! He gets naked and contributes to worthy causes. It would be fab if he could do both simultaneously but sadly there was scant opportunity for strip billiards on this trek.

Prince Harry is hawt at the South Pole

Prince Harry is hawt at the South Pole

Tarty birds and Prince Harry make for a winning combination but there’s much more to the South Pole. There’s some seriously big and mind blowing science happening down there.

The South Pole is (fittingly enough) home to the Ice Cube. I’m not talking about the crazy mofo rapper/actor. Rather it is the world’s largest neutrino detector. In one episode of The Big Bang Theory Sheldon was offered a position down there which should give you some indication of its significance to the physics/cosmology set. The structure is a vast array of basket ball sized sensors which dangle like Christmas baubles 2,000 metres below the surface. There are well over 5,000 of the things suspended in the ice. The clarity the complete blackness make it the perfect place for picking up neutrinos. Similarly there is a night club in Sydney’s South called the Vinyl Room which also very dark and consequently the perfect environment for picking up divorcees (so I have heard).

This diagram shows just how big the project is.

This sucker needs on big G&T

This sucker needs on big G&T

It was no easy (or cheap ) feat to install all this complex equipment in the ice and the project involved collaboration between 41 institutions from 12 different countries. So we must have a pretty good reason to hunt down neutrinos.

dom med

One of over 5,000 sensors.

What are they? As far as my tiny brain can comprehend, neutrinos are tiny particles which arise when an atomic nucleus breaks down.  They have no charge and don’t interact with anything which is why they are mysterious to scientists. The universe is absolutely buzzing with them but they very rarely come into contact with anything. To give you some  idea each second, about 100 trillion neutrinos go through your body.  In your entire lifetime, just 1 single neutrino might interact with an atom in your body. Seriously how do people know stuff like this? They can come from radio active decay here on earth and are created by our own sun. Super nova and gamma ray bursts make a souped up version and this is type Ice Cube is looking for. Understanding more about neutrinos will help scientists better understand the nature of matter. It will also help us ultimately understand the origins of the universe itself.

In April 2012 Ice Cube found a pair of neutrinos which they were certain originated from outside the solar system. It was a big deal in physics circles and the pair were christened Ernie and Bert.

Ernie and Bert

Ernie and Bert

are kind of a big deal.

are kind of a big deal.

Its pure research and no one knows where it is going to all end up. Its hoped that it may help explain mysteries like what is dark matter and how gravity works. In the meantime I find it amazing that people can identify this tiny winy infinitesimal things and pin point where it the universe they came from even if it was millions of light years away. Sure there’s a strong argument that we should be devoting our resources to solving practical problems in the here and now like ending famine, curbing global warming and curing cancer. Nevertheless the cult of physics fascinates me. Whilst the mainstream is all a twitter about Sienna Miller’s brief encounter with Daniel Craig (whilst she was dating Jude Law)* there’s a core of people devoting their lives to unraveling these esoteric questions. It restores my faith in humanity.

The world's coolest lab.

The world’s coolest lab.

As my favorite piece of laboratory crumpet Prof Brian Cox says ” .Time and again history shows you that trying to understand nature as a goal leads to the most wonderful discoveries that change civilization. It’s impossible to know which bit of that discovery is going to lead to something useful”.

What do you think?



*Personally I am aghast about this.  Its simply unfair that one woman gets to have so much fun. Biatch!

18 thoughts on “Way Coooooool

  1. A most diverse and diverting post! 🙂

  2. The whole building things in the South Pole issue freaks me out a bit – just because who knows what mess we’re unleashing (I’ve seen Planet of the Apes AND 28 Days later – science goes wrong, people) but I am impressed with what people know and how much there is to know….

  3. I’ve never heard of the ice cube, fascinating. Once again you’ve nailed the Who Magazine meets New Scientist vibe. Brian Cox is SO last year. Looking forward to your stadium tour.

  4. I love it when you go all science-y on me. But when the hottest crumpet on your page is Ernie, something has gone wrong in the world of Abulous.

  5. I would love to know how they worked out those neutrinos came from outside our solar system. As you said its mind boggling that there are people out there who get that stuff – it makes you feel awe in the traditional sense (as opposed to the modern sense characterized by usage such as “totes awesome”).

  6. I just love that you have a favourite piece of laboratory crumpet!! Hilarious thank you, and educational 🙂 I so needed your post today. Cheers, Tanya

  7. I really dig all this info you share, I can learn things to impress those around me. Seriously though, one of my idols is Stephen Hawking – you can never know too much. As for lab crumpet you crack me up x

  8. Wait until I teach my kids about the “ice-cube”. My son will go nuts 🙂

  9. Only you could use science as an excuse for publicising crumpet. Kx

  10. Ice cubes and Bert and Ernie. I think I had to read this three times to get my tired little head around this. Thank you for making my brain work today! loved it

  11. I could listen to you talk nerd all day Mumabs!
    If you’re ever interested in cowriting a biology post, I’d love to collaborate. (As long as you bring the crumpets!)

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