Rob Young grew up in Dodge City and his parents, Fredric and Alberta still live here, but his current home is about as different from southwest Kansas as it could be.
Rob Young grew up in Dodge City and his parents, Fredric and Alberta still live here, but his current home is about as different from southwest Kansas as it could be. Young, an electronics design engineer for the Instrumentation Design Lab at the University of Kansas, is working at the geographic South Pole through the first week of January.
Since his arrival three weeks ago, Young has been working with other researchers adapting wind turbines to the Antarctic environment. Young said the project as a whole is a multi-university collaboration.
“The overarching project we're working on is called the Askaryan Radio Array (ARA),” Young said. “It's basically a bunch of physicists who want to look for neutrinos. The ice sheet is being used as a giant telescope.”
A telescope made up of millions of tons of ice that is.
The neutrino is an elementary particle that holds no electrical charge and travels at nearly the speed of light. Neutrinos are extremely hard to detect because they pass through ordinary matter with virtually no interaction. Young said the goal of detecting the particles is to pinpoint the sources generating them, which could be stars or other galaxies.
“It's pure science as opposed to applied science,” Young said. “They're looking for the sake of looking; the project will answer questions but will also create more questions.”
The turbines Young works to install act as an alternate way to power the experiment.
“The wind here averages about 12 knots (18 mph), and compared to the wind in southwest Kansas, that's nothing,” he said.
Young is also working on another part of the ARA project- drilling 200 meter holes in the Antarctic ice with hot water. The holes, which are set up at 1 kilometer intervals, will house radio antennas that are part of a sensing array for the neutrinos. In 2012, the crew will install antennas number two and three. When 37 antennas are in place, the project will be finished. Young estimated the feat to take about eight years.
He also said he wouldn't mind coming back to the Pole throughout the duration of the project and added that the weather has been “quite warm.”
“It's been about -12 or -13 degrees Fahrenheit with light wind,” Young said. “The coldest it has been is -35 degrees, which is tolerable if you stay out of the wind.”
And luckily, Young likes the cold. But unless you look out the window of the housing building, you wouldn't even know you were at the South Pole, he said.
“Our accommodations are quite luxurious,” he said. “It's a short sleeve environment.”
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station currently houses 165 people who, according to Young, are a tight-knit group. And even though they're in the driest, truest desert on earth, the group is at no loss for things to do in their spare time.
“We can go on expeditions on the ice. Some people cross-country ski and there's even a few who jog,” he said.
He described his surroundings much as one would expect; white.
“This place makes southwest Kansas look like the Alps. It's dead flat all the way to the horizon. The other day another guy and I were walking out to check a drill site, and the only noise was the crunching of the snow while we were walking.”
Since all of the inhabitants at the station will be away from home for the holidays, Young said a giant fun-run is planned for Christmas day.
“It's called the Race Around the World,” he explained. “And since all of the longitudinal lines extend from the South Pole, the course goes al the way around the world.”
The station's on-site chef, sous chef, and professional baker will also make a Christmas dinner.
For New Year's, Young and his comrades will take part in an annual ceremony relocating the South Pole marker.
“Because the ice sheet moves, we have to reposition a new marker to the correct location once a year,” he said. “The old marker then goes in a display case in the station.”
After Young completes his stretch at the bottom of the world, he plans to travel around New Zealand and then return to his home in Lawrence.
“Once I get my laundry done, I'm going to head home to Dodge to see my parents,” he said.