Though Daniel Barker was a Dean's List student at Goucher who graduated phi beta kappa this past May, he is most proud of the C he earned in an intro philosophy course early in his college career.
After being homeschooled for his entire primary and secondary education, Barker started taking courses part-time at Villanova University in a Philadelphia suburb five minutes from his parents' home. Until then, he had never stepped foot in a conventional classroom.
Barker bombed his first college exam, filling out only one Blue Book page during the in-class essay. With time, he acclimated to the college classroom setting and was able to pull off a C as his final grade in the class.
He says he benefited from the wide swath of courses he was able to take at Villanova, but the university's undergraduate population was too big for him, and while he wanted to be close to his family, he realized he didn't want to live at home anymore.
Barker started looking for colleges with fewer than 2,000 students that were a three-hour drive or less from Bryn Mawr, PA - his hometown. Goucher made his short list.
During a visit to campus, he got to meet and speak with faculty members, which got him interested in the kind of education and attention he would get here. But what attracted him most was the kinship he felt with Goucher's student body.
"Academics are great, and I wanted a good school for that, but I also wanted a school where I could deal with the people. And Goucher seemed like it was the best fit for me in that sense. ... It was a school that I could come to and actually be happy," he says.
When Barker arrived at Goucher as a sophomore, he was still trying to determine which discipline interested him the most. He thought about, but ruled out, being an English major ("I didn't like to write that much") or a music major ("I'm just not quite that talented.") He knew he was interested in physics and math, which eventually became his major and minor, respectively.
Barker experienced some further academic tribulation during the early weeks of his first semester at Goucher. He worried that he was "just not good enough at physics" and would need to drop the class. But Associate Professor of Physics Sasha Dukan worked with him one-on-one and drew out his natural strengths in the subject.
Dr. Dukan taught about half of the physics courses Barker took during his three years at Goucher and became one of his strongest influences, along with Dr. Marin Pichler, also an assistant professor physics.
Barker worked for a semester and two summers in Dr. Pichler's lab working on projects involving atomic, molecular, and optical physics - the study of matter-matter and light-matter interactions in single atoms or structures containing a few atoms.
Barker and his partners have spent a lot of time building circuits to stabilize lasers that they are using to cool and trap atoms. They eventually hope to use another laser as a catalyst to bind together cesium and potassium atoms to form molecules.
After taking a year off to work in industry, Barker entered the Ph.D. program in Physics at the University of Maryland at College Park. His research field is Magneto-Optical Traps, and in September 2012, he created his first successful Strontium trap, in which he cooled Strontium atoms down to a fraction of a degree above absolute zero by firing carefully-tuned lasers into a special magnetic trap.
Barker says he wants to eventually be a researcher - whether it be in a government laboratory, as a professor, or in private industry.
"You have to be open to the possibilities," he says.