School of Physics professor Ignacio Taboada officially begins his term as the next spokesperson for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory — an NSF-funded South Pole facility searching deep space for sources of high energy neutrinos — on May 1, 2021. Taboada recently joined outgoing spokesperson Darren Grant for a Q&A about IceCube’s progress and plans.
Ignacio Taboada, professor in the School of Physics and member of the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics at Georgia Tech, has been elected as spokesperson for the IceCube Neutrino Observatory, a collective of more than 300 scientists worldwide who work to detect neutrinos and other high energy streams of subatomic particles reaching Earth from deep space. The system of sensitive detectors — which takes up a cubic kilometer of South Pole ice — began in 1999 and has already yielded major discoveries about neutrinos, which are near massless subatomic particles that can travel unhindered for billions of light years from the most extreme environments in the universe to Earth.
Taboada joined AMANDA (The Antarctic Muon and Neutrino Detection Array), IceCube’s predecessor project, as a Ph.D. student in 1998, and has since added a number of major research responsibilities to his portfolio as IceCube has also grown. In 2017, Taboada and Ph.D. student Chun Fai Tung made significant contributions to the study of the first-ever detection of a neutrino in coincidence with a gamma ray flare from a ‘blazar’ — a type of galaxy with a super-massive black hole, in which a jet produced near the black hole points towards Earth. The blazar was the source of a high energy neutrino that set off IceCube detectors.
In recent years, researchers in the School of Physics at Georgia Tech have helmed a number of major collaborations and communications within the realm of astrophysics research and discovery — including the Nobel Prize-winning successful search for gravitational waves, through which a team of Tech’s astrophysicists joined thousands of scientists from around the globe in the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) detection effort. Laura Cadonati, professor in the School of Physics and the current director for Georgia Tech’s Center for Relativistic Astrophysics (CRA), has served as LIGO’s deputy spokesperson.
As Taboada, a fellow member of CRA, prepares to begin his tenure as IceCube’s spokesperson this May, he echoes that arc of leadership and the unique role that Georgia Tech and the School of Physics play within IceCube, LIGO, and other projects — and what that may mean for the future of other large-scale undertakings in this space:
“I think the relevance is that big science, as understood in terms of large scientific collaborations, is now clearly an important part of the scientific portfolio at Georgia Tech,” Taboada says. “If you look at the way that science has been changing within Georgia Tech, it’s clear that there are many changes for the better. The scientific output of Georgia Tech is improving, and improving over time. And I really hope that this is a sign of more things to come for physics and for science in general — and I really am very hopeful that Georgia Tech is going to play a big role within Gen2 (the next phase of IceCube’s development).”