Mines News

Release Date Friday, April 12, 2024

High School Students Complete Real-World Data Science on Antarctic Neutrino Experiment at Mines

High school students in the annual IceCube Masterclass at Mines use actual data from the South Pole-based neutrino observatory to “fish” for unique signals generated by catastrophic phenomena in deep universe. 

South Dakota Mines will host high school students on April 16 who will participate in the annual international IceCube Masterclass. During the workshop, the students will get a chance to work with the actual dataset taken by the international IceCube Neutrino Observatory, located at the geographic South Pole.

South Dakota Mines faculty, alongside researchers globally, collaborate to merge signals from various detectors in outer space, aiming to create the most comprehensive understanding of the universe. Among them, Mines Professor Xinhua Bai, Ph.D., and Assistant Professor Matthias Plum, Ph.D., are astroparticle physicists leading a distinctive NSF sponsored project with IceCube, leveraging the extensive dataset collected by the world's largest neutrino observatory. The duo will be co-leading the Masterclass. 

South Dakota Mines hosted the first IceCube Masterclass in 2018 with a handful of students. Since then, there is a steady interest from more and more high school students. Sixty-one students have signed up for the Masterclass this year, 40 of them are from Stevens High School in Rapid City and 21 from Newcastle High School in Wyoming. “I’m very impressed by these motivated students and their curiosity about the science we do,” Bai said. “The active participation of young students and their science teachers also inspires us to do better year by year.” 

"IceCube Masterclass at South Dakota Mines is a great opportunity for our students to get a glimpse into the fascinating IceCube project and how it probes our universe with fundamental particles,” said Zachary Beam, a science teacher at Newcastle High School. “It allows them to interact with professional scientists and engineers, see applications to computer science and data science, and analyze real data from the neutrino observatory at the South Pole. The impact of IceCube Masterclass goes beyond the experiment, by giving students a chance to learn about many aspects of life and research in Antarctica." 

Besides hands-on practice of examining neutrinos and cosmic rays, this year students will also be introduced to machine learning with demonstrations. “We are unlocking the secrets of the universe, one particle at a time, with new data techniques,” said Plum. “On top of the amazing science, we hope this year students also get a taste of how scientists tackle the toughest science questions with the smartest data techniques.” 

“The IceCube Masterclass hosted by Dr. Bai and Dr. Plum provides an exemplary opportunity for high school students to learn about the remarkable underpinnings of the universe. In the processes, they get to see first-hand what it means to be a research scientist as they are introduced to legitimate experimental results and the ever-evolving suite of tools humanity uses to interpret them,” said Andrew W. Smith, Ph.D., a physics teacher at Stevens High School. “Exposing students to the basics of machine learning is exciting for students growing up in the data age,” Smith added. 

To enhance its detection power in a broader energy range, scientists are upgrading IceCube and planning for the second generation of the observatory. New data from them will support more advanced research in decades to come. The IceCube Upgrade started its first field season at the South Pole early this year. “Multi-messenger astronomy and astrophysics are big science. Its success depends on the continuous efforts of generations of scientists. More young students actively participating in events like this will help ensure U.S. leadership in this exciting field of study,” said Bai.

The IceCube Masterclass runs from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. in room 254 of the Electrical Engineering and Physics Building on the Mines campus. Working alongside Bai and Plum this year are IceCube research scientist Larissa Paul and graduate students Amar Thakuri, Logan Molchany and Alexis Hanson, who will be assisting students by addressing queries and guiding them in accessing and visualizing IceCube data throughout the hands-on practice sessions.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.

Contact: Dr. Jade Herman, 605-394-1718, Jade.Herman@sdsmt.edu