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Spring Valley CCSD Foundation Honors Hall of Fame Inductee

Press Release: July 9, 2020

From: James Hermes, Spring Valley Supt.



On July 9, 2020, the Kennedy School Honors Virtual Awards Program was held. The following award was given:  


The Spring Valley Elementary Foundation Hall of Fame Honors

Spring Valley Elementary School is proud of the District’s rich history. Mr. Charles Palia played a major role in establishing the school district and he became the Foundation’s first inductee into the Spring Valley C.C.S.D. Foundation Honors Hall of Fame in 2019.


The Foundation is proud to announce the 2020 inductee Darcy Barron. Darcy grew up in Spring Valley and began her education at Lincoln Elementary School. She was always a straight A student, but her top scores on the 5th grade Illinois State Achievement Tests encouraged her teacher, Mrs. Hillstrom, to allow her to advance her studies at her own pace. In 6th grade at JFK, she followed the same accelerated program. By the time she entered 7th grade, it was apparent to the teachers and staff that she should be allowed to skip 7th grade. She took the leap and continued with her extracurricular activities as a 7th grade cheerleader, and participated in girls’ basketball, volleyball, track, band and swing choir. At 8th grade graduation, she shared valedictorian honors.


At Hall High School, Barron continued her straight A streak. She also continued with sports, becoming track captain her senior year and setting a school record in the triple jump. She worked summers as a lifeguard at Spring Valley pool and helped with her family’s business - Graphic Electronics - part-time during the school year. She took the ACT twice to prepare for college applications, scoring 34.5 in her first attempt, and a perfect 36 on the second attempt. Only 134 students out of over a million who took the test that year achieved perfect scores, and this accomplishment was front page news in the NewsTribune(see link: https://assets.adobe.com/public/a0093b3d-2c01-470d-7bcd-b7f0aa4f0c48). At graduation she shared valedictorian honors, graduating in 2004.


After high school, Barron decided to attend the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, joining her two older sisters. She chose to major in Engineering Physics, following a passion for physics and cosmology first discovered while reading science magazines from the library as a child. She became involved in research soon after arriving at U of I, beginning as a research assistant in Prof. Les Allen's materials science research group. Her undergraduate years at U of I also included two summers working for LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) at Caltech and participation in the Intel Scholars undergraduate research program during the academic year. She graduated with honors in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering Physics, with a minor in Astronomy.


After graduation, Barron continued her physics education, entering the Ph.D. program at the University of California, San Diego in 2008. She joined a class of 27 students from all over the United States and around the world, but she was only one of two women. The other woman in the class grew up in Poland, but had a similar strong interest in cosmology. They remain close friends today.

In 2009, Barron joined Professor Brian Keating’s experimental cosmology group as a graduate research assistant. The group builds telescopes and analyzes their data to measure the polarization of the cosmic microwave background (CMB), with the goal of discovering new properties of our universe. In 2011, she helped commission a new CMB experiment, known as POLARBEAR, and continued to help design the next series of telescopes necessary to expand and improve the experiment. The group worked towards adding two more telescopes known as the Simons Array, named for funding through the Simons Foundation and its founder, mathematician and hedge fund manager Jim Simons. When she first arrived at the experiment's new location in Chile, the observatory was just shipping containers and a bare telescope structure. By the time Barron graduated in 2015, the group had completed the initial CMB observations and published exciting new results, detecting the signal they had set out to measure, the B-mode gravitational lensing signal.


In 2015, after finishing her Ph.D. at UC San Diego, Barron moved to UC Berkeley to continue working on the POLARBEAR/Simons Array project under an NSF Astronomy and Astrophysics postdoctoral fellowship. The fellowship supported her continued research as well as expanded involvement in education and outreach. Through the Multiverse group at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Lab, she led an NSF-funded summer research experience program for undergraduates, aimed at first-generation college students and community college students. The program brought a group of students to the lab over the summer to complete a research project in support of one of the NASA missions or other projects at the lab.


In 2018, Barron received an offer to become an assistant professor of physics and astronomy at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In addition to teaching physics courses, she is building up her research program. She has designed and built a custom lab space, which features a new refrigeration system for cooling detectors within 0.01 degrees of absolute zero. She also continues her work with the POLARBEAR/Simons Array project, traveling to Chile three times in the past two years. An additional project was funded in 2019 through the UNM Women in STEM awards, with the title “Improving Physics Retention Rates through Early Undergraduate Research Experiences at UNM.” Through this program, Barron aims to give students better context for their physics course work in the form of independent research projects.

New Mexico was a natural fit for Barron because she enjoys spending time in the mountains: backpacking, hiking, and stargazing. In addition to spending significant time in the mountains of Chile, she has traveled frequently to Japan to work with collaborators building instruments for POLARBEAR/Simons Array. She has also had the opportunity to travel in Europe and Australia for cosmology conferences. A favorite part of traveling for her is trying new foods, whether it’s exotic dishes at restaurants or exploring new snacks at a local grocery store. A memorable snack was fried pasta chips from a 7-Eleven in Japan. One of her absolute favorite treats is still Spring Valley Bakery cookies!

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