SBCC Physics Major Rory Barton-Grimley volunteers time to work on NASA project at UCSB

SBCC Physics Major Rory Barton-Grimley volunteers time to work on NASA project at UCSB

Rory Barton-Grimley stands besides a telescope called COFE, which stands for Cosmic Foreground Explorer on April 28 at the UCSB Physics Lab. The telescope was launched in September 2011 from New Mexico.

Jennifer Rufer, Features Editor

Fresh out of high school, Rory Barton-Grimley wanted to be an auto mechanic. Now he’s on track to becoming an astrophysicist.

“[I] didn’t go to [college] right after high school,” said Barton-Grimley, 23. “I actually had no intention of going to college, whatsoever.”

This month, Barton-Grimley will graduate from City College with an associate degree in physics, math and liberal arts with emphases in science and mathematics. Then he plans to study math and physics at UCSB in the fall. UCSB’s exclusive graduate physics program was ranked tenth in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report.

But back in 2006, the Carpinteria High School student got a job at a BMW facility right after graduation. He enjoyed his work, but wanted to know more about the ins and outs of what makes cars run.

His curiosity brought him to City College, where he became interested in astronomy and chose to major in physics. He then started the Astronomy Club with a friend.

The club averages 20 to 30 members and holds various events, where students observe stars and planets.

“It’s a lot bigger than I ever thought it would be,” Barton-Grimley said. “I thought it was going to be, like, my friend and I would go up and look through some telescopes and stuff.”

Barton-Grimley tutors astronomy and keeps himself busy grading papers for math and astronomy classes. Working with his peers, Barton-Grimley found the source of most of their mistakes is distraction. He says students would benefit from taking the time to read problems more thoroughly.

“Patience is a huge thing in math, because you can do 99 percent of the problem correctly, and that one percent is incorrect, and you get the final [answer] wrong,” he explained.

Jaime Campbell, assistant math professor, asked him to grade papers for his classes after Barton-Grimley excelled as one of his students.

“He’s really interested in the subject matter; he’s really enthusiastic about learning the material. … He’s really a scientist in the making. I mean, you can really see it,” Campbell said.

Erin O’Connor, associate professor at City College, recommended Barton-Grimley for a post in the Experimental Cosmology Lab at UCSB for extra research. A year ago, he was assigned to a project under Dr. Philip Lubin, a physics professor at UCSB.

During the summer, Barton-Grimley helped Lubin and his team to build and launch a microwave telescope that measures leftover heat from the big bang—the theorized scientific principle of where the universe came from. The eight-year-long and multimillion-dollar project was finished in September. A select number of people, including Barton-Grimley, traveled to New Mexico to propel the telescope, courtesy of NASA.

“It looks like it worked,” Barton-Grimley said. “It took data, it ran successfully, which is much more than the last project the lab did.”

Barton-Grimley was accepted to UC-Irvine, UCLA and UC-Santa Cruz, but opted to stick with UCSB since working side-by-side with Lubin has been such a positive experience.

“If I need something, say, from an electronics store for a project we are working on, [Lubin will] pull up his car and drive me over there. … That alone is grounds for me to stay at UCSB,” he said.

Although Barton-Grimley said he will miss attending City College, he plans to continue grading papers and tutoring classes. Learning and spreading knowledge is now his top priority.

“I would be so satisfied if I could just take classes for the rest of my life,” Barton-Grimley said. “The closest I can get to that is to get a Ph.D., maybe start teaching or something.”

Editor’s Note: This article was originally publishedMay 9, 2012.