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NTU Cosmologist Celebrates Double Centennials at South Pole

In December 2011, Prof. Pisin Chen, director of the Leung Center for Cosmology and Particle Astrophysics, journeyed to the South Pole as a member of an international team to set up an immense radio antenna array designed to detect neutrinos. While there, Prof. Chen had the opportunity to join in celebration of two important centennials. Not only was 2012 the centennial of the founding of the ROC, it marked the one-hundredth anniversary of humanity’s first setting foot on the geographic South Pole.

Named the Askaryan Radio Array, the network will comprise 37 antenna stations arranged along a hexagonal grid covering an area of approximately 100 square kilometers at the geographic South Pole. Each station will be placed 200 meters beneath the surface of the polar ice to measure the enhanced radio-frequency radiation emitted by neutrinos as they pass through the deep radio-transparent ice sheet.

Prof. Chen joined the team to take part in the installation of the ARA’s first antenna station. This was no easy task. The team had to battle temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius and endure the low-oxygen atmosphere at 2,800 meters above sea level. The installation of the array’s first antenna station was scheduled to be completed prior to the end of the Antarctic summer.

The team, which includes scientists from universities in the United States, Europe and Japan, expects to spend a total of US$10 million to complete the ARA system over the next four years. Taiwan is providing ten of the stations, making its contribution to the array second only to that of the United States. Once completed, the ARA is expected to be in operation for at least five to ten years. If any major discoveries are made, the array could be expanded to an area of 1,000 square kilometers.

While at the South Pole, Prof. Chen proudly unfurled the national flag of Taiwan alongside the flags of the other nations represented at the South Pole. It turns out he had been so focused on preparing scientific equipment prior to his journey that he neglected to pack Taiwan’s flag. Still, Prof. Chen, who is also a respected artist, singer and playwright, made his own flag of Taiwan to mark the historic occasion. On December 12, he held a video conference with the Taiwan’s media to share his experience with the people back home in Taiwan. Upon returning to Taiwan, Chen donated his flag to the Gallery of NTU History.

Also, on December 14, Prof. Chen attended a ceremony marking the one-hundredth anniversary of Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen’s historic arrival at the South Pole. At Prof. Chen’s invitation, Norwegian Prime Minister Yens Stoltenberg, who traveled to the South Pole for the event, recorded a video message wishing the people of Taiwan a happy ROC centennial!

Chinese version