“Answering big questions at the South Pole”, PSD News

May 17, 2023

The South Pole Telescope team at South Pole posing for a group picture with Professor Bradford Benson, and graduate students Karia Dibert and Paul Chichura from the University of Chicago.

by Kevin Bryson

Most people seek warmer destinations for travel to escape the tough Chicago winters. Brad Benson, on the other hand, sets his sights on the South Pole nearly every year. On his list of top reasons to visit: the intense cold creating extremely low levels of moisture in the air, dryer even than the highest mountain peaks in the world. 

Benson, an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago and scientist at Fermilab, is an experimental cosmologist who develops detectors and massive telescopes that enable the study of the origins of the Universe.

Benson isn't the only one paying attention to the water vapor levels in the South Pole; typically, water vapor absorbs microwaves in the atmosphere, but in the early eighties, researchers identified the South Pole as an ideal location because it is dryer than even the highest mountain tops. For these researchers, the South Pole became a unique destination for the study of the oldest radiation waves in the universe, the cosmic microwave background (CMB). 

"[The CMB] had only been discovered technically in the sixties, but there was a lot of active research and new measurements going on, especially when I was starting in school," said Brad. "So it was an exciting topic at the time that captured my interest. It was just perfect timing to get involved."

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