Southbound and down

Poet engineers partner with ARIANNA

Emmanuel Jones


When fourth-year Nick Clarizio transferred to Whittier College in Spring of 2016, he never imagined he would be making a project that would actually be used outside of Whittier, let alone in Antarctica. Now, the former student of California Lutheran University and current Poet is working with Antarctica Ross Ice-Shelf Antenna Neutrino Array (ARIANNA).

How does someone who started college as a Business major end up working on a huge scientific experiment? Like many students at Whittier College, Clarizio took a class in one of his fields of interest — engineering — and noticed time flew by in that class more than in any other. From there, he continued his pursuit of engineering and decided to Double Major in Physics and Business. After four years, he completed his Business Major and has since taken classes exclusively that apply to his major in Physics. 

Last Fall, as he was signing up for classes, Clarizio realized Whittier did not offer enough physics classes that semester for him to maintain his status as a full-time student without taking courses he did not find applicable. While it is not a class exactly, Clarizio heard about an opportunity to earn a few credits by doing undergraduate research with Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jordan Hanson.

As a particle physicist, Hanson works directly with ARIANNA on their research, which is currently on the movements of one of the least understood but possibly most important particles in physics: the neutrino. Neutrinos are a high-energy, subatomic particle, and one of the key building blocks for our universe. Despite being extremely important, relatively little is known about them.

However, it is known that, unlike other particles, neutrinos do not carry an electromagnetic charge, often have no mass, and appear in three forms, which are categorized by the charged particle that they are associated with (electron, muon, or tau). 

The ARIANNA Collaboration is a team of physicists working in Antarctica experimenting with neutrino detection and studying the movement of neutrinos through large areas of ice. They are doing so by using massive detectors submerged within the ice shelf. Those detectors, in order to properly track the neutrinos, will need to be calibrated to pick up the signals emitted by neutrinos and filter out background noise.

That is where Clarizio and Whittier College’s contribution comes in. Clarizio is building a drone that will be equipped with a device sending pulsing signals to an array of detectors over a large area. The experiment ARIANNA is conducting, to an extent, builds on the work of Clyde Cowan and Fred Reines, who were the first to detect neutrinos in the atmosphere. Reines also received the 1995 Nobel Prize in physics for his contribution to the field.

Clarizio believes in the benefits of his Double Major. “It’s [a] really deadly combo, having someone who understands the way business works, and understands what it takes financially and what it takes scientifically to get things working,” he said. “That combo is really deadly in terms of targeting disruptive technologies, and that seems to drive a lot of business growth these days.”

As a long-time tinkerer, Clarizio has a history of taking things apart and building something new, from toys in his youth, to cars, and now drones. He has worked with his hands for a long time and even did so in a professional capacity when he was an intern for Bluefish Concepts, a company that designs prototypes for consumer products. Clarizio is also working to inform students about their opportunities to get involved with 3D printing on campus. He has set up a Google Docs for students to submit their ideas, and he will then determine whether they would be printable. For further inquiry, Poets can email Clarizio at

Photo Courtesy of Nick Clarizio   Fourth-year Nick Clarizio worked with Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jordan Hanson in a drone that “will be equippied with a device sending pulsing signals to an array of detectors over a large area.”

Photo Courtesy of Nick Clarizio

Fourth-year Nick Clarizio worked with Professor of Physics and Astronomy Jordan Hanson in a drone that “will be equippied with a device sending pulsing signals to an array of detectors over a large area.”

As Clarizio and Professor Hanson were working out the logistics of the drone project, one of their concerns was cost. They considered simply buying a drone, but they would need one with a significant carrying capacity and potential to be upgraded, but a drone with those attributes can cost upwards of $4,000. Thus, they decided to build one, giving them the opportunity to have a drone with the aforementioned attributes and at less than half the price.

Clarizio plans to have the drone complete in time to study for his finals. He currently has the frame built and is working on syncing the motors to each other and fine-tuning the flight controls. After he has tuned the flight controls, he will be ready for the fun part, test flying.

The larger experiment will likely extend far past Clarizio’s graduation. While he mentioned it would be incredible to continue this as a job, that is not his intention. “I’m hoping to go to graduate school. Although it would be great to get a job out of it, that’s not the reason I’m doing it — more just for experience,” said Clarizio. “I’m in part of the message group that all the physicist are in together discussing day-to-day operations, and it’s very cool that I get to see the ins and outs of how things go, from theory and paper to real life projects, like the giant neutrino detectors.”