Photographs taken by Ryan Barley '12 of Westfield, Mass., (above, left) were published in Scientific America after he traveled to New Mexico to observe a solar eclipse through a course he took at Williams College. He was the only one in the group who managed to capture a photo of the moon in full annularity.
A double major in physics and English, Barley is an intern at the American Institute of Physics' Center for History of Physics, where he's doing historical work. A member of MCLA's Society of Physics Students since its inception a few years ago, Barley also helped to found its sister club, the Math Society.
While he ended up studying physics, Barley did not start out with the field in mind.
"I started MCLA as an English major, originally with the intent of doing broadcast journalism, but I floated more toward print and photo as I took my major classes. It was about then that the recession sort of became obvious and there was a lot of talk about the death of print media, so I thought it would be best to jump ship and get a major that wasn't expected to die."
Over his first summer break, Barley listened to a number of audio books to keep his mind busy while working in a warehouse. One, a historical survey of science, inspired him when he learned that, in the world of physics, there are an infinite number of things left to explore.
"That was romantic," Barley said. "The next semester I enrolled in 'Introduction of Physics' and I haven't looked back."
"When I first got here, I sort of threw myself into theater, which is something completely different. I did the Yorick shows and the One Acts for my first two years; then went off to help my friend at the UMass Renaissance Center for a year doing other plays," Barley said. "That year I was also the photography editor for the Beacon, having been a staff photographer before that. Last fall, I wrote a biweekly column for the science page."
During his final semester at MCLA, Barley worked at Photonics magazine in Pittsfield as a science writer for that industry, which is the study of light and its interactions with matter.
Next, he plans to earn his doctorate in theoretical physics. He's most interested in high energy physics and general relativity.
"These fields have a lot to do with finding just what exactly resides in the smallest constructs of space and time. It can tell us what the universe was like moments after the Big Bang, and some people think that it can even tell us what things were like before the Big Bang happened. That's the exploration thing again, except instead of finding places to explore, it's time and origins."
The best part of his MCLA experience, Barley said, was working with the physics department - the students and the teachers.
"We all cared about each other and helped each other succeed, and the professors went out of their way to make sure we were learning and learning well," he explained. "There isn't a lot more you can ask of a professor than staying with you until 11 p.m. to help you work out a problem. Our professors would do that, and I think I'm speaking for all of my class when I say we loved them for it."
To see Barley's photos, go to www.scientificamerican.com/slideshow.cfm?id=solar-eclipse-ring-of-fire .