Electronics Engineering at Halley

The Halley Science Team consists of four people: two Electronics Engineers, an Atmospheric Scientist and the Data Manager. As most of the experiments at Halley use electronic instruments to record data, the two Electronics Engineers are invaluable members of the team. Today I’d like to introduce them to you – meet Ross and Ricardo.

Halley Electronics Engineer

What does an Electronics Engineer do at Halley?

Instead of describing the role of the electronics engineer myself, I thought it’d be more interesting to let Ross explain it:

As an electronic engineer at Halley it is my job to maintain the scientific experiments that gather data here. The level of maintenance of experiments ranges from simply restarting a logging program on an experiments PC to fine tuning a super conducting coil. I also carry out repairs to experiments if they are damaged in any way. Most repairs are simple problems such as a connector snapping in low temperatures but some can be more involved if a circuit board is damaged by static. When not maintaining or repairing experiments I work on developing experiments that will be upgraded, this can involve writing firmware changes or even redesigning power supply subsystems to reduce noise in the experiments data.

As experiment components can get damaged and require replacement we have a well-equipped electronics workshop. The workshop or “e-lab” has a selection of quality soldering stations and a hot air rework station for removing and installing electronic components. We also have a range of test equipment for fault finding and bench testing circuits which includes power supplies, oscilloscopes and signal generators. The workshop has all replacement components that are required for each experiment.

What experiments the Electronics Engineers are responsible for?

All experiments are hosted in cabooses around the station. There are six cabooses in total (C1 to C6), and each hosts either a single experiment or a suite of related experiments. The responsibility for those experiments is split between the two engineers – Ross and Ricardo.

The following is a list of experiments (or experiment groups):

  • C1: EMQA/VLF. EMQA stands for Electro Magnetic Quiet Area, and VLF stands for Very Low Frequency. This caboose hosts experiments like:
    • Automatic Whistler Detector (an experiment to detect whistlers, or lightning in high magnetical latitudes)
    • Ultra (study the changes in the ionosphere effecting the propagation of VLF waves. This experiment is also used to detect solar flares)
    • Velox – another experiment listening to 0-10kHz frequency range, and looking at events in the lightning gap, i.e. hiss, chorus and whistler activity
    • WWLLN – this is the World Wide Lightning Location Network, and is used, as part of the network, to detect the lightning. The data collected by this experiment is sent to a central server for the network, which can then use triangulation (using the data from other sites) to accurately locate the site of the lightning strike anywhere in the world. This can give information e.g. about possible volcano eruptions or over area where no other methods of lightning strike detection exists (deserts, oceans).
    • Fluxgate Magnetometer – a very precise instrument measuring changes in the Earth’s magnetic field (specifically in the lower band of the frequencies), it is hosted in a shaft/tunnel currently 13 metres below the surface of the ice shelf (which we call the Maggy Shaft).
    • Search Coil Magnetometer – complements the Fluxgate Magnetometer by measuring changes in the Earth’s magnetic field in the higher frequency range – these are caused by by ionospheric currents rather than geomagnetic source.
    • Wideband Riometer – an instrument which listens to radio noise coming in to Earth from space in the 30MHz frequency range, and which can be used to detect if charged particles from space penetrate the upper layers of the ionosphere.
  • C3: SuperDARN Radar. SuperDARN stands for Super Dual Auroral Radar Network, which consists of 30 sites all over the world. The radar at Halley is one of those. Those radars look into the Earth’s upper atmosphere and track the motion of charged particles (plasma) in the ionosphere, providing information on Earth’s space environment, which gives insight into space weather hazards like radiation exposure for high altitude tavellers, disruptions to communication networks, satellite systems or electrical power grid.
  • C4: MF Radar. The MF (Medium Frequency) Radar looks at winds in the high middle atmosphere (60 to 100km altitude). The transmitting antennas illuminate patches of ionised gas and the receiving antennas measure the signal that bounces back and track those patches as they drift across the sky.
  • C5: Optical Caboose. This caboose hosts a suite of optical instruments:
    • Airglow Spectrophotometer – an optical instrument measuring the natural glow of the atmosphere
    • IRCam – a camera pointed at the sky, taking series of images in the infrared spectrum, every 10 seconds, during the dark period. These can then be merged into a video for further analysis.
    • AllSky Camera – a set of two cameras, one colour and one grayscale, pointed at the sky and having a field of view which allows them to cover the whole sky.
  • C6: Microwave Radiometer – an experiment which measures the chemistry and wind in the upper regions of the atmosphere (60-90km) using the heat emissions in the microwave region around 230-250GHz from molecules to estimate quantity, hight and speed of these sepcimen

In addition, there’s a number of experiments and field activities involving both of the Electronics Engineers, like:

  • LPM (Low Power Magenetometers) – a network of magnetometers installed every one degree of latitude, all the way towards the South Pole and used to monitor the variation in the Earth’s Magnetic Field
  • LOH (Lifetime of Halley) – a number of GPS stations positioned all around the Brunt Ice Shelf, used to monitor the movement of the Ice Shelf
  • GPS and GPR surveys – regular field trips to perform GPS and Ground Penetrating Radar survey of the crack in the Ice Shelf, which is opening up and which is located in the vicinity of the station

Considering the amount of work all of the above create, the Electronics Engineers split their responsibility between the two of them in the following way:

  • Ross: EMQA/VLF, Microwave Radiometer, GPS and GPR surveys
  • Ricardo: Radars, Optical, LOH, GPS and GPR surveys

Of course, as we are all one team, we all support each other – so if one person has too much work, or is running out of ideas, or is struggling to solve the issue they’re working on, the other people in the team step in and try to help.

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