'Telescope Adventures in the Antarctic Icecap' is next talk in series

University Park, Pa. -- Francis Halzen, the Hilldale and Gregory Breit professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, will present "Telescope Adventures in the Antarctic Icecap" on Feb. 7. The free event is a Penn State component of the 2009 International Year of Astronomy. It also is the third of six lectures in the 2009 Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science, a free minicourse for the general public with the theme "Our Universe: From the Big Bang to Life." No registration is required. The lectures take place on six consecutive Saturday mornings from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m. in 100 Thomas Building on Penn State's University Park campus.

Halzen and his colleagues are building a telescope called IceCube by melting a grid of 80 2-kilometer-deep holes into the Antarctic Icecap. Each hole will hold a string of basketball-sized detectors to record the shimmering blue glow that ghostly neutrino particles create in the clear ice as they flee from the the most violent explosions in the universe. Halzen is the principal investigator and co-spokesperson for the IceCube project. He will describe the adventure of building IceCube plus the mysteries scientists hope to solve by fishing for neutrinos in the Antarctic ice.

"Neutrinos are cosmic messengers from the most violent processes in the universe, including the biggest explosions since the Big Bang and the eruptions that result when a giant black hole gobbles up stars in the heart of a quasar," Halzen said. "Neutrinos will tell us if there are dark-matter particles trapped in the heart of our Sun, and perhaps they even may reveal if there are additional dimensions in space."

Halzen is a theoretical physicist whose research interests include problems at the interface of particle physics, astrophysics and cosmology. He has been working since 1987 on the AMANDA project at the South Pole -- the first-generation neutrino telescope. This telescope proved the power of neutrinos as detectors of violent processes throughout the universe, and it paved the way for the advanced IceCube telescope, which Halzen now is leading.

Halzen wrote the standard textbook used in senior undergraduate and first-year graduate classes in elementary particle physics. His research achievements have been published in numerous papers in scientific journals. He also was honored with the "Best American Science Writing" award in 2000 for his essay titled "Antarctic Dreams," published in the journal "The Sciences" by the New York Academy of Sciences.

Halzen earned his academic degrees at the University of Louvain in Belgium: a master's degree in 1966, a doctoral degree in 1969 and the agregation distinction in 1972, the highest qualification available for teachers in higher education in Belgium. He is the recipient of many awards in honor of his research achievements including, most recently, the Helmholz-Humboldt Research Award, given by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Germany, and his selection as the first John Bahcall Memorial Lecturer by the Weizman Institute in Israel, both in 2007. Some of his many earlier awards include an honorary doctoral degree given by Uppsala University in Sweden in 2005, a University of Wisconsin Sesquicentennial Award in 1999, the Korean Research Foundation Collaborative Research with Foreign Distinguished Scholars award in 1998, the "Great Advances" award given by the Science Coalition in 1997, and election as a Fellow of the American Physical society in 1995.

The Penn State Lectures on the Frontiers of Science are a program of the Penn State Eberly College of Science. For more information or access assistance, contact the Eberly College of Science Office of Media Relations and Public Information at science@psu.edu or (814) 863-0901. Information also is at http://www.science.psu.edu/alert/frontiers/ online.

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Last Updated March 19, 2009