Mission & Team

James Roth

James Roth

What is your position at the University of Delaware, and what does it entail?
My title is Senior Electronics Instrument Specialist. In a nutshell, I'm an electronic technician responsible for the development and deployment of specialized instruments for the purpose of collecting data for physics research. The kinds of questions that our physicists need to answer require special instruments that are not available on the shelf at Wal-mart! I work with our engineer to help design these instruments. I usually get involved at the prototyping stage and then see the project through production and assembly. When we have a working system, we deploy it into the field, which includes often remote locations like South Pole Station.

How long have you been at UD?
As of January 2010, I have worked for the Bartol Research Institute and the Department of Physics & Astronomy for 11 years. I'm looking forward to the next 10.

What do you like most about your job?
What I like most about working in this environment is the variety of projects and tasks that I get to work on. I have at least three projects that I'm involved with. The main project I work on now is the IceTop project being deployed at South Pole Station. I was initially hired to work with a network of Cosmic Ray Monitoring stations. We deployed three new stations in the Arctic and maintain several others in the Arctic and Antarctic. Finally, I work with two instruments that are launched under high-altitude balloons for long duration collection of cosmic ray data.

What do you like least about your job?
While I love the travel and the exciting aspects of working in the field, I miss the time away from my kids! I will be at the South Pole for two months this season. That’s a long time to be away from my two teenagers.

What's the most exciting thing that's happened to you on the job?
I think that the travel is the most exciting part of my job. I have, on many occasions, been able to fly in the cockpits of the various military aircraft that are required to get us to the South Pole. The most exciting event had to be the first time I stepped off the C-130 Hercules at South Pole Station and saw the famous Dome that was the research station for 30 years. I remember thinking, "Wow, I'm really at the bottom of the world!" The Dome was removed last season after I left. It will be strange to be at the Pole without it.

What is your role in IceTop, and why is this research important?
My role in IceTop began several years ago when we started freezing our first prototype tanks in a warehouse freezer at the Port of Wilmington. We successfully proved that we could produce the clear ice that we need for the IceTop detectors by using a natural "Top Down" freezing method combined with the removal of the dissolved gasses from the water. Now my role in IceTop is the field deployment of 160 of the 650-gallon IceTop tanks at South Pole Station. This season we will deploy the final 16 tanks that will complete the construction phase of IceTop. We will refurbish and Calibrate 16 of the Freeze Control Units (FCUs) that were used in the 28 tanks we froze last season. After the tanks have been filled, I will be staying longer this season to monitor the freeze process and begin the job of packing up our materials for return to the States.

What do you like most about going to the South Pole?
There are several things I like about going to the Pole. I like the community of people I work with down there. It is a very cooperative environment as everybody works to complete their projects during the short summer window. It will be rewarding to see the completion of the detector after eight summers of construction at the Pole.

How do you fill your free time at the South Pole?
What free time? With a short season and a lot to do, there's not a lot of free time. I usually listen to music in the lounge. About once a week we get together to watch a movie or a recorded TV series. There is no TV coverage at the South Pole. I would have to say that most of my free time is spent sending my e-mail updates to friends and family. I also try to participate in station activities like "James Brown (the cook) Bingo."

What's your favorite hobby? TV show?
I have my private pilot license. I fly as a member of the Dover AFB Aero Club. With no TV at Pole I will have to take DVDs to watch or pick something from the extensive library there. Last year I took the Jesse Stone mini series with Tom Selleck.

What other interesting places have you visited as part of your work?
I just returned from Peawanuck, Ontario in September. I saw 8 Polar Bears in the wild! Now I just need to see a penguin. My first trip with UD was to Thule AFB, Greenland to maintain our Neutron Monitor Station there. Other NM sites I have been to are Nain, Labrador, Peawanuck, Ontario, Ft. Smith, and Inuvik in the North West Territory. I have also worked on the high-altitude balloon campaigns in Lynn Lake, Canada, and at the Essrange rocket base in Kiruna, Sweden.

What tip would you give to others interested in pursuing your career?
My degree is in electronics engineering technology. There are obviously many different specialties in the electronics field. I have spent most of my time working in the research and development field. It helps to have a diverse set of skills to work in R & D. I do a lot in the area of mechanical fabrication. Vocational skills working with power tools and machining would be a plus.