UNM physics professor wins award, seeks to expand research opportunities for students


Darcy Barron, associate professor at the University of New Mexico with a Ph.D. in physics, has research that has taken her from the freezing Midwest to the dry Atacama Desert in Chile, where she works with a team of collaborators twice a year to monitor the cosmic microwave background of the universe. Barron recently received a Cottrell Scholar Award, which celebrates both his research and teaching achievements.

The price, which maintains a three-tier review to treat and a competitive funding rate of 14%, will provide $100,000 over three years to support Barron’s research. She is excited to attend the Cottrell Scholar Conference in Tucson, Arizona in July, where she plans to learn from other educators and adapt some of their methods to fit UNM and her needs. unique.

Her main goal in supporting the physics department is to increase undergraduate student retention by engaging them in research, which she sees as part of a university-wide effort. Barron also wants to emphasize what she sees as key elements of research, such as discovery and problem solving. This unique kind of independence and drive is important for anyone wanting to pursue a career in physics, she said, because there are obstacles on the way to graduation.

“The amount of math and physics doesn’t fit into a four-year degree for someone coming from a normal high school prep level,” Barron said.

Ian Birdwell, a graduate student working in the Barron Research Group, recognized the program’s difficulties, such as impostor syndrome. He admitted that beneficial self-analysis can come from it, but he also thinks it’s “demoralizing, and being a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income family, those are things where I tell myself , ‘I wonder if anyone is struggling with it as much as I am.

According to Barron, tapping into your community and studying in groups where you can empathize with the hard work of physics can ease the loneliness of the degree program. She complimented the work in the chemistry and biology departments, where they manage large classes and extend research opportunities to their students.

Tim Schroeder, director of Science Technology Engineering Matjh education programs at UNM, helped Barron provide more hands-on opportunities for his class.

Despite the difficulties associated with the field, Barron spoke about physics in a way that makes it invigorating. She described the rush that comes from finally finding the solution to a difficult problem.

“It’s very interesting and exciting, you know; we study the universe,” Barron said.

When Barron was a freshman at the University of Illinois, engineering professor Les Allen encouraged Barron to see where physics could take her.

“He was instrumental in understanding what you could do with physics and…telling me, ‘A degree in physics is really flexible,'” Barron said.

Birdwell said Barron also helps him and other students see the wide range of subjects they can study in their field.

“She’s able to meet anyone where they are in terms of the skills they have, while also finding ways to give them lots of new (things) to work on…She’s like, ‘Here are some projects fun data analytics, let’s go.” Birdwell said.

One of these new avenues shown at Birdwell was Barron’s laboratory cryostat, a machine that works like a giant freezer. It brings temperatures down to millikelvins, which are a few thousandths of a degree above absolute zero and a little cooler than space.

Another extreme implicated in the group’s research is the near total lack of humidity found in the Atacama Desert, where the POLAR BEARor Simons Array, named after a donor, is located.

Reaching these telescopes from Albuquerque involves a long series of flights ending in the mining town of Calama, Chile, where researchers and tourists can then take a shuttle bus to the small town of San Pedro. It’s another 45 minute drive to the network, which is at 17,000 feet. Scorching UV radiation, total dryness and altitude sickness are the unfortunate side effects of a location so close to space.

While Barron explains that the high altitude is not favorable for stargazing as one might expect, there is still beauty hidden in the Atacama’s extraterrestrial surroundings.

“I once drove up in the middle of the night because something weird happened during the initial setup. It’s really nice and the sky is really clear, and there’s all these little mice running down the road,” Barron said.

Barron’s cautious next steps include both expanding his research and providing opportunities for students at different stages of their academic careers.

“My short-term goal is to try to get a large research group with five or six graduate students all doing interesting things and to try to include as many undergraduate students as possible,” Barron said. .

Nell Johnson is a freelance journalist for the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @peachnells


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