Will the real rock star scientist please stand up?

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Sandra Porter

I've been fortunate, living in Seattle, to hear talks from many people that my colleagues and co-bloggers might consider to be rock stars - people like Mary-Claire King, Nancy Wexler, Francis Collins, Leroy Hood, Eugenie Scott, David Haussler, Harold Varmus, and Elaine Ostrander. But, if I think about who the public might see as a rock star, the list gets much shorter.

To the kids, I know, there are two people who qualify as rock star scientists.

One, of course is Jane Goodall. I am seriously disappointed in Afrensis for not mentioning her. I nominate Jane for the Aretha Franklin of Anthropology award. Truly, she deserves our respect.

The second rock star is also well-known, as least in spirit. He gave the only science lecture that I've ever attended where kids were lined up in the aisles, clutching their copies of books, and patiently waiting for his autograph.

Who was this man, standing in the front of the room, and patiently autographing book after book, dressed (appropriately for Seattle!) for a plenary lecture in a lumber-jack shirt and blue jeans ?

Here's a hint: I think that I shall never see a genome as lovely as a T.

It wasn't anyone that my co-bloggers have guessed. Mind you, I've enjoyed books by Jared Diamond (suggested by Coturnix in Dan's list of guesses), and I've been grateful for the chance to hear talks from the leaders of the genome world.

But this was Jack Horner.

Let's face it. A genome will never be as cool as a dinosaur.

Jack Horner gave a wonderful talk the night that I heard him speak in Kane Hall at the University of Washington. He does amazing science and fantastic work uncovering the secret lives of Maiasaurs and Tyrannosaurous rex. I still remember his rants against calling anything a "reptile." And I have the mental picture in my head of a T. rex, like a jeep, falling over if it ran too fast.

My first love was rock collecting and fossil hunting. If I could ever swing it, I would gladly volunteer to spend weeks in the Montana desert digging up fossils. I missed bringing my kids to Horner's talk and have regretted it ever since.

It was clear to me why Horner was the inspiration for Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park. Some day, I suppose, we'll have to rent the movie.