Cold, Kryptonite, and Ice Cube

Over the last few years I have whipped myself into pretty decent shape for an almost forty something. From my heaviest point, I have lost somewhere between twenty and twenty five percent of my body weight, and in the meantime transformed what is left into solid muscle. Out of curiosity I should book an appointment with a trainer for an hour and on top of getting some more tips, I should get measured for a body fat percentage. But enough of that.

Where I am going with the description of my physical condition is that cold weather is absolutely my kryptonite now. I also shaved my head in the meantime, so any temps below, say, 50 F require coat, skullcap and gloves. Before, when I was heavier and had hair, 50 F was no issue in a t-shirt for me.

As I type this in my office, I have a small portable heater running under my desk. The winters here in the upper Midwest are very tough on me. Our winter is just beginning, and I am already suffering – the real cold stuff is yet to come. But so it goes.

On occasion, some interesting individuals come into my store from the UW. Well, I get people in the store from the UW all the time, but these individuals from a certain department are different. They work on the Ice Cube project. From their website, here is what the project is involved in:

The IceCube Neutrino Detector is a neutrino telescope currently under construction at the South Pole. Like its predecessor, the Antarctic Muon And Neutrino Detector Array (AMANDA), IceCube is being constructed in deep Antarctic ice by deploying thousands of spherical optical sensors (photomultiplier tubes, or PMTs) at depths between 1,450 and 2,450 meters. The sensors are deployed on “strings” of sixty modules each, into holes in the ice melted using a hot water drill.
The main goal of the experiment is to detect neutrinos in the high energy range, spanning from 1011eV to about 1021 eV. The neutrinos are not detected themselves. Instead, the rare instance of a collision between a neutrino and an atom within the ice is used to deduce the kinematical parameters of the incoming neutrino. Current estimates predict the detection of about one thousand such events per day in the fully constructed IceCube detector. Due to the high density of the ice, almost all detected products of the initial collision will be muons. Therefore the experiment is most sensitive to the flux of muon neutrinos through its volume. Most of these neutrinos will come from “cascades” in Earth’s atmosphere caused by cosmic rays, but some unknown fraction may come from astronomical sources. To distinguish these two sources statistically, the direction and angle of the incoming neutrino is estimated from its collision by-products. One can generally say, that a neutrino coming from above “down” into the detector is most likely stemming from an atmospheric shower, and a neutrino traveling “up” from below is more likely from a different source.
The sources of those neutrinos coming “up” from below could be black holes, gamma ray bursters, or supernova remnants. The data that IceCube will collect will also contribute to our understanding of cosmic rays, supersymmetry, weakly interacting massive particles (WIMPS), and other aspects of nuclear and particle physics.

Uh, yea. Maybe some of my readers with a more scientific background can decipher what they are after. I sure can’t make heads or tails of it.

You should hear the questions the Ice Cube guys ask us about simple parts.  We usually stand there and stare at them like they have an arm growing out of their head.

 This is a pump for a fuel oil furnace. There are millions of them all across the United States. There are several of these in the Antarctic right now that are in use that were purchased from me, having been modified by the Ice Cube team. They have to pretty much buy all standard items for use down there and modify them since there really isn’t any industry that creates items for use in that environment.

Speaking of that environment, I would last about three minutes down there. Seven degrees F is the recorded HIGH for the South Pole. This article appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal yesterday and literally sent shivers down my spine. I didn’t know the conditions that these scientists put themselves through. Their lips and fingers crack, they get nosebleeds, snow blindness, etc. In the article, it is stated that the participants in the program have to go through a rigorous physical and seminars explaining to them what will happen to their bodies as they dry out in the worlds largest desert – the Antarctic.

They repair their cracked skin with superglue. Superglue!

It might be cold down there, but it would be hell for me.

Cross posted at LITGM.

13 thoughts on “Cold, Kryptonite, and Ice Cube”

  1. Ironically, getting in shape makes you more sensitive to cold. An important factor in exercise is the ability of the body to efficiently shed heat. As you train your body up, especially with cardio, you train it to dump heat effectively. Unfortunately, you can’t turn the mechanism off and on. Now you’re in shape but you leak heat like a radiator.

    This effect can be extreme in elite athletes, especially marathon runners. They can develop hypothermia under conditions that even children can tolerate.

    It must be nice being able to contribute to major scientific project like that.

  2. Shannon – even though we don’t know what we are selling the part to the UW scientists for, it is pretty cool to know that things that have passed though our hands, even if we didn’t make them, are on their way to Antarctica.

    As for the heat radiator, I am living that dream.

    I remember reading somewhere that as the Germans pressed though Russia and eventually started running out of food, and with the onset of the bitter winter that the guys who were in the best shape died first since they had no fat in their bodies to draw from.

  3. Dan, you have to start protecting yourself with artificial insulation. I’m not suggesting developing a beer belly (although post-war Germans,from what I saw abroad, are very fond of the idea), but think in terms of materials/methods of stopping heat leak. Minimize skin surface available for convection: coat it with sealer. Not Superglue; goose fat or glycerine will do (do not use vaseline). Radiation: wear layers of moisture-absorbing fiber, with air filler in between as temperature retainer. Top layer should be synthetic- outside, natural – inside.

    Think of your body as an attic in your house… am I making any sense?

  4. Dan From Madison,

    It’s not just the loss of body fat that make you cold. It’s the development of myriad capillaries in your muscles and skin that pipe heat away from muscles and radiate it out the skin. Without those capillaries, heat doesn’t move anywhere near as fast. I’ve seen some incredible charts comparing the heat dumping ability of athletes even when compared to people with similar degrees of body fat. You would have this ability even if you had a layer of fat. Eskimos can move a lot heat around even though they are will insulated.

  5. The concept is pretty simple. Neutrinos don’t interact very easily, so they can race right through the planet without noticing. Every now and then one interacts, though, and if it has a high enough energy there’s a little splash of particles–usually one, sometimes a few more, which tend to go in the same direction as the original neutrino.

    The ice there is pretty clear, so the Cerencov radiation (that blue glow you see around water-moderated reactors) is easy to detect if you have phototubes imbedded in the ice. For obvious reasons they make strings of these (you have to power them and read them out somehow) and melt holes into the ice to mount them.

    Since the speed of light is finite, different phototubes will pick up the flash at different times, and that helps tell you where the neutrino hit. The amount of light tells you about the energy; and if the splash includes a muon that travels a long way in the ice, you can figure out which way it went. All of that goes to help tell you which direction the neutrino was coming from and how much energy it had.

    Some of the neutrinos come from decaying muons created in cosmic ray showers, but some come from astronomical sources. By figuring out the direction of the neutrino you can estimate how many come from what source, and where.

    Locally produced neutrinos aren’t so interesting, but it is very interesting to know about supernova neutrino production, for example. I’ll skip supersymmetry: I’m pretty skeptical about it.

  6. 1. Head. If your fingers are cold put on a hat. Skull caps, toques, turbans, what have you.

    2. Superglue is fabulous stuff for stanching wounds that band-aids cannot deal with. try it some time.

  7. Go look up “Ice Cube” and “Neutrino Detection” at wiki. The articles there are fairly readable by the layman. Also, you might want to check into a set of science essays from the 60s by Isaac Asimov, collected into “The Neutrino”, probably out of print but available via Amazon. It’s dated (the pantheon of subatomic particles was in the dozens, not hundreds), but it’s also readily understandable by the layman, and close enough to accurate for the layman’s need to understand.

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