Extremely valuable – high-tech material solutions for optical applications from Berghof

March 14, 2022

Whether in outer space or at the polar circle, research projects take man and technology to the remotest places – with innovative, high-performance material solutions from Berghof Fluoroplastics on board which do their valuable job even under these extreme conditions. An impressive example: The world-wide unique “Ice-Cube” high-energy neutrino observatory that is part of the Amundsen-Scott-South Pole Station in the Antarctic.

Since their discovery at the beginning of the 1990s, the neutrinos have been fascinating the world of science. Because these mysterious particles from space whose energy is a million times greater than that of nuclear reactions occur in large numbers in so-called cataclysmic, i.e., revolutionary, events such as supernova explosions in deep outer space and can provide researchers with valuable information about these fascinating cosmic events.

This knowledge is important for an even better understanding of our universe and its origins. Because the first cataclysmic event was the “big bang” which created our universe. The more we learn about this through the neutrino research, the better we are able to understand what has been happening and continues to happen in our universe since its creation.

In order to research specifically into this thrilling subject, the “IceCube” came into existence about ten years ago in the middle of the Antarctic.

The name says it all: The heart of the “IceCube” is made up of more than 5,000 so-called photomultipliers, extremely light-sensitive sensors which are sunken into specially drilled holes in the perpetual ice of the South Pole like pearls on a string. Altogether, these sensors form a cube with an edge length of about one kilometre. And this cube is placed deep in the ice for a very special reason. Neutrinos are very difficult to verify directly – but they can be targeted exactly by a roundabout route. When neutrinos hit atoms in the ice, the reaction creates the blue iridescent Cherenkov radiation and this radiation can be evaluated subsequently with the aid of the photomultipliers.

"IceCube" is an international success - in the truest sense of the word

Neutrinos can provide the answers to many questions which scientists all over the world have been asking. The team that works on this unique project is therefore appropriately international and interdisciplinary. About 300 researchers from 12 countries and 48 different institutions are part of the “IceCube” team that not only works regularly at this observatory but also continuously improves it.

One of them is the physicist Felix Henningsen from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) who, with an international group of scientists at the “Chair for Experimental Physics with Cosmic Radiation”, has been working intensively in recent years on a further optimization of the calibration of optical media and photosensors. And this is exactly where Berghof Fluoroplastics comes in – specialising in innovative, high-tech plastic material solutions for more than 50 years and in international demand with their optical materials by the name of Optopolymer® where a perfect, diffuse reflection with uniform light distribution is called for.

The successful outcome of this research project is the new “Precision Optical Calibration Module” – or POCAM for short. In the polar summer of 2022/2023, the scientists want to recalibrate the sensors sunken beneath the ice and achieve even better results with “IceCube” in the future.

One of the secrets of POCAM’s success: With its construction, scientists succeeded in increasing the isotropy, i.e., the uniform distribution of light radiation, as far as technically possible – with the help of the experts from Berghof Fluoroplastics. Because, with its extremely high diffuse reflection up to >99 %R (250–2.500 nm), Optopolymer®, the optical PTFE from Berghof, is the material with the highest known diffuse reflection – and therefore the ideal solution for such demanding optical applications.

Whether in outer space or, as in the case of “IceCube” at the South Pole – the innovative, high-performance material solutions from Berghof Fluoroplastics are extremely valuable in the truest sense of the word.


Credits: TUM / E49. Foto: Sven Lidstrom, IceCube/NSF. Collaboration/NSF