Andrew Wagner, Eng ’83, lived and worked in one of the most isolated places on the planet — the South Pole.
Wagner is the lead software engineer for the enhanced hot water drill at IceCube, an international project committed to building and embedding a neutrino telescope deep beneath the Antarctic ice. Their study of neutrinos buried here could provide astrophysicists with new insights into black holes, exploding stars and other phenomenon in space.
Wagner worked at the South Pole for a few months last year and will return in December. That’s the middle of Antarctica’s summer, when the wind chill pushes the thermometer to a mere minus 30 degrees. At 10,000 feet altitude, the icy, thin air challenges even the most hardy researchers. He says, “One of the biggest surprises was how difficult it is to think clearly when you’re there.”
Wagner manages software for IceCube’s drill, which uses a high-pressure hose full of boiling water to pierce 8,000 feet of ice. After drilling a basketball-sized hole, researchers lower a string with optical detectors. By 2011, they hope to complete a powerful, three-dimensional observatory.
The South Pole crews work out of a National Science Foundation center, where they live dormitory-style with about 200 other researchers. “It’s somewhat like living back in Schroeder Hall,” Wagner says.
He thought of Marquette last Christmas, when a Catholic priest flew in from New Zealand to celebrate Mass. “It was really reminiscent of the Mass we had at Schroeder with Father Naus,” he says. “It gets kind of lonely there, and going to Mass creates a sense of community.”