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IceCube: The Polar Particle Hunter

Searching Antarctica for the frozen paths of cosmic-ray neutrinos

11 min read
Particle detectors are lowered into a 2.5-kilometer-deep hole drilled into the Antarctic ice near South Pole Station.
Photo: NSF

No commercial airline flies to the South Pole. Instead, I started my trip there on a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport, which traveled from Christchurch, New Zealand, to McMurdo Station, a U.S. Antarctic research center located on the southern tip of Ross Island. I stayed at McMurdo overnight before boarding a smaller plane, an LC-130 turboprop, for the rest of the journey. After a 3-hour flight over the Transantarctic Mountains, my plane landed on skis at the bottom of the world.

Stepping off the LC-130, I found the cold, thin air a real shock—the South Pole is more than 2800 meters above sea level, and the temperature was –30 °C. I staggered to the shelter of South Pole Station, from which, after suiting up in 10 kilograms of extreme-cold-weather gear, I walked to the nearby drilling camp. The goal of this operation was to bore holes 60 centimeters in diameter, each reaching about 2.5 kilometers below the surface, which is deeper than the Grand Canyon.

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The World’s Largest Camera Is Nearly Complete

The future heart of the Vera C. Rubin Observatory will soon make its way to Chile

3 min read
A large black cylinder with a glass lens in front rests on a sturdy white structure in a bright room.

The LSST camera, eventually bound for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile, sits on its stand in a Bay Area clean room.

Jacqueline Ramseyer Orrell/SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory

The world’s largest camera sits within a nondescript industrial building in the hills above San Francisco Bay.

If all goes well, this camera will one day fit into the heart of the future Vera C. Rubin Observatory in Chile. For the last seven years, engineers have been crafting the camera in a clean room at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory in Menlo Park, Calif. In May 2023, if all goes according to plan, the camera will finally fly to its destination, itself currently under construction in the desert highlands of northern Chile.

Building a camera as complex as this requires a good deal of patience, testing, and careful engineering. The road to that flight has been long, and there’s still some way to go before the end is in sight.

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Lab Revisits the Task of Putting Common Sense in AI

New nonprofit Basis hopes to model human reasoning to inform science and public policy

5 min read
ai hand and human hand touching pointer fingers
iStock

The field of artificial intelligence has embraced deep learning—in which algorithms find patterns in big data sets—after moving on from earlier systems that more explicitly modeled human reasoning. But deep learning has its flaws: AI models often show a lack of common sense, for example. A new nonprofit, Basis, hopes to build software tools that advance the earlier method of modeling human reasoning, and then apply that method toward pressing problems in scientific discovery and public policy.

To date, Basis has received a government grant and a donation of a few million dollars. Advisors include Rui Costa, a neuroscientist who heads the Allen Institute in Seattle, and Anthony Philippakis, the chief data officer of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. In July, over tacos at the International Conference on Machine Intelligence, I spoke with Zenna Tavares, a Basis cofounder, and Sam Witty, a Basis research scientist, about human intelligence, problems with academia, and trash collection. The following transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.

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Take the Lead on Satellite Design Using Digital Engineering

Learn how to accelerate your satellite design process and reduce risk and costs with model-based engineering methods

1 min read
Keysight
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