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July 13, 2019 - So What Am I Doing in Minnesota?

I'm an aerospace engineer. I worked at a wind tunnel and in flight testing. So how did I end up at a cosmology lab working on a telescope? Well, there is a lot of engineering that goes into building a telescope. And it turns out my operational experience in a wind tunnel test lab and in flight testing makes me well suited to the job of being the first "winterover engineer" for the BICEP Array telescope.

BICEP Array telescope mount at UMN during assembly
BICEP Array telescope mount at UMN during assembly

I started in early February to help the team here during the final 9 months of telescope construction before it is shipped to the South Pole. There has been a lot to do, small pieces of the system that are still left to design and build, and lots of testing before deployment. Things are coming together rapidly now.

The telescope needs to be ready in September to make its long voyage to the South Pole. It will go in pieces by truck to San Diego, then board a navy ship to be transported to Christchurch, NZ, where it will be loaded onto a C17 cargo plane and flown to McMurdo, a coastal base on Antarctica. Finally, the telescope will be transferred to a smaller LC130 cargo plane, the largest aircraft that is capable of landing on the South Pole skiway. A group of about 15 of us from the BICEP collaboration (including University of Minnesota, Caltech, Stanford, Harvard, and others) will meet the telescope at the south pole and spend the Antarctic summer putting it all together. The size of the team will taper toward the end of the season, down to just one person (that's me!). Around February, the last airplane until the following November will depart, leaving the station isolated for about 9 months. At that point, it will be me and the same ~40 people living at the station until the next summer. It is a mixed group of station support staff and scientists working on other experiments.

The operation, care, and maintenance of the telescope for the winter will be my responsibility. Every day I will walk a kilometer from the station out to the telescope under the night sky. I'm excited for the challenge, for the sheer absurdity of where I'll be living, and for the experience of sharing a winter with a small isolated community. I'm super lucky to have the opportunity, and especially lucky to have people in my life who are supportive of my decision to go on this crazy adventure (thanks Danielle!).