Zachary Barker is Navigating His Way to Success

May 22, 2009

Zachary Barker presented his research in GPS autonomous navigation during the recent SCHOLAR Day at Mount Union.Zachary D. Barker, a 2009 graduate of Mount Union College, has a great start on his journey to future success, and he doesn’t even need GPS to direct him there.  

Barker graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy.  He plans to continue his education at Carnegie Mellon University studying mechanical engineering with an interest in robotics.  

Using a GPS system, Barker studied the development of a small scale, autonomous, GPS-guided vehicle using commercially available radio-controlled (RC) vehicle hobby equipment and open source software and hardware for his senior culminating experience project.  Barker’s project integrated physics and engineering to create a vehicle capable of autonomous navigation based on pre-programmed GPS waypoints and input from tactile sensors which provide obstacle avoidance capabilities. A control loop allowed the autonomous vehicle to minimize error between its GPS-determined position and the position of its next programmed waypoint.

“I think that the project itself has allowed me to learn a great deal about autonomous vehicle research, said Barker, “and the skills that I have gained through my work with the project will likely serve me well in graduate school.”

Barker is continuing to work with the autonomous vehicle research over the summer as a hobby.

Robotics is not the only area in which Barker specializes.  An internship at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California during the summer of 2008 gave Barker the opportunity to research on the detection of commonly used pesticides with the Single Particle Aerosol Mass Spectrometry (SPAMS) instrument.  This instrument was originally developed to detect explosives as well as chemical and biological weapons; however, Barker’s research showed that it could also be used to quickly detect pesticides in situations where public health might be threatened.

Barker was officially a participant of the Department of Homeland Security's HS-STEM (Homeland Security - Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Summer Internship Program.  After finishing his research, he was presented with an opportunity to present it at the Department of Homeland Security’s Third Annual University Network Summit in Washington D.C.   

After his abstract was accepted, Barker assembled a poster to present at the conference in March 2009.  It featured the data collected over the summer, which demonstrated how the SPAMS instrument could detect certain pesticides.

“The conference was very informative,” Barker said, “and allowed me to see a variety of different homeland security related research areas that could be open to me as a graduate student.”

Along with a few other authors, Barker is about to submit a research paper, which will be sent to a refereed journal, summarizing the pesticide work they had done.

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