Meet the SO Scientist Darcy Barron
I first started working on cosmic microwave background measurements as a graduate student at UC San Diego. As an undergraduate, I had worked in several labs on various technical projects, and really enjoyed the day-to-day building, tinkering, and troubleshooting that comes with getting an experiment to work. I decided to join Professor Brian Keating’s experimental cosmology group building telescopes to measure the cosmic microwave background (CMB) because it shared much of the lab work I enjoyed, but also came with an appealing grand goal of measuring new properties of our universe. I helped commission our first telescope, POLARBEAR-1, and continued to help design and build the next series of telescopes as we expand and improve our experiment, adding two more telescopes as part of the Simons Array. When I first arrived in Chile, our site was just some shipping containers and a bare telescope structure. By the time I graduated, our site wasn’t much more than that, but we had completed our initial CMB observations and published exciting new results detecting the signal we had set out to measure, the B-mode gravitational lensing signal.
In 2015, I finished my Ph.D. at UC San Diego and moved to UC Berkeley to continue working on the POLARBEAR/Simons Array project. I received an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics postdoctoral fellowship, which supports me to continue my research as well as expand my involvement in education and outreach. Through the Multiverse group at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab, I am leading an NSF-funded research experience for undergraduates (REU) program, aimed at first-generation college students and community college students. The program brings a group of students to the lab for the summer to complete a research project in support of one of the NASA missions or other projects at the lab. I get to teach the students important skills and tools for research they wouldn't have encountered in their classes, as well as follow each student’s project and learn about new topics myself.
For Simons Observatory, I have begun working on optimization: helping study how to build the best experiment we can, given our capabilities and budget. While my research background helps me to frame and understand the technical problems we are studying, the question of how to best spend our resources also interests me. As a student, as I became more involved in research and learned along the way about the sources of funding, I became more interested in science policy and how these funding decisions are made. Advancements in astronomy and particle physics can require large (and expensive!) collaborative hardware projects to progress the field. The community and funding agencies must coordinate not just at the largest scales for mega projects like James Webb Space Telescope, but with overall priorities. Writing papers describing the current state of our field and what we plan to do next is an important part of this process, and I really enjoy being a part of it.
Outside of lab, I enjoy spending as much time as I can in the mountains backpacking, hiking, and stargazing. As a graduate student, I volunteered for the local Mountain Rescue Association team. In addition to all the useful technical training I received, being part of such a large team, running like a well-oiled machine, was an amazing experience. I have always enjoyed leading backpacking trips with friends, but this took the organization and preparedness to a whole new level. You quickly learn that self-sufficiency isn’t enough to be prepared to accomplish difficult tasks, or to help others in need.
I also enjoy the traveling that do as part of my job and research. My favorite part is trying new foods, whether it’s new dishes at restaurants or exploring snacks at a local grocery store. I’ve probably eaten over a hundred kinds of chips in the past several years! Most recently, I had fried pasta chips from a 7-Eleven in Japan; they were delicious.