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28 November, 2003

Meet Nathan Smith, graduate student par excellence!

Nathan Smith, graduate student at the University of Iowa. Born in McHenry, Illinois and is living the dream!

Upon first meeting Nate, which is how he prefers to be called, you see before you a clean cut, all-American kid from Anytown, U.S.A. But is that all? I suspect not. Like many kids growing up he went through a phase when he was fascinated by dinosaurs and drew pictures of them in his notebook. He envisioned himself studying these great beasts in exotic locations but he was quick to add "Or maybe I would be an ice cream man." Something that rang true as we helped ourselves to another soft-serve at the 24-hour FREE ice-cream machine.

Nate went through the Crystal Lake Central Schools, spending his senior year at the newly opened Prairie Ridge High School. He played baseball, specifically second base and generally spent his time like any other teenager. During those high school years the thought never entered his mind that he would be looking for dinosaurs in Antarctica.

His fateful choice that would eventually lead him to this frozen continent was based on a simple decision, how friendly a place could be. He had narrowed his choices down to two, The University of Illinois or Augustana College, in Rock Island, Ill. "The decision came down to this, when I was on campus at Augustana, people held doors open and greeted each-other. It was such a friendly place I felt comfortable there right away." His mother was hoping for another engineer like his Dad in the family but Nate had other ideas.

Smith started an undergraduate course of study in Secondary Education, Chemistry. But his patience soon wore thin as he did not like to wait around for a chemical reaction to take place. He took a couple of bio courses and started reading about evolution, in parcticular the writings of Steven J. Gould caught his interest and he changed majors to biology. One summer, he took Dr. William Hammer's field paleontology course that he conducts in the White River Bad Lands. The fossils they excavated got under Nate's skin and he was soon intrigued by the morphology of the finds. Returning to school, he took courses on comparative anatomy and he was hooked.

After graduating from Augustana, Nate knew he was not cut out for an office job. He enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Iowa, department of Geosciences. His advisor, Dr. Chris Brochu, has given Nate the latitude to work on his thesis "Osteology of Cryolophosaurus ellioti and implications for basal Theropod systematics and evolution."

Says Nate "Its like not having a boss, you work until you can't work any more, or until you are hungry, You do not have to eat at a prescribed time and you make your own decisions." This puts greater pressure on the individual to be very self motivated which fortunately Nate is. Although you do not see him setting records at rising early, he spends his free time here in the Crary Lab library doing research and writing. When pressed about his earlier decisions to enter teaching, he admits he does still like to teach, admitting "You never know anything better than when you prepare to teach it. But, sometimes I do find my teaching load getting in the way of my research and that is a drawback."

I asked Nate where he sees himself in 10 years and he readily admits, "Any thoughts I had of my future never panned out, so you have to be careful about predictions, because they can always come back to bite you in the ass!"

For relaxation Nate likes a good book to read, a hard rock face to climb, and discovering a tasty new brew to try. His biggest regrets so far in life are getting shot down by young college girls, and having never seen Paris in the summertime. All in all, not a bad start to an exciting life.

Tomorrow: Peter Braddock, Mountaineer!

Nate uses his superior analytical skill to explain to the physicists how the combustion of carbon based fuels produce copious amounts of thermal energy.

Nate prepares to prussic his way up the climbing rope.

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