Dan grew up in suburban Chicago.
He thrived on Science Olympiad at South Middle School and Prospect High School, which got him started in the sciences. While a physics major at Caltech, he did research in gravitational waves, neutrino oscillations, and synthetic aperture radar.
Astrophysics graduate school at Princeton University was the next step, where he worked with (among others) the late Bohdan Paczynski and was a thesis student of Scott Tremaine. He further developed his interest in exoplanets as a Michelson Fellow at Harvard and a Hubble Fellow at UC Santa Cruz.