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Hearda Durda?

Week of September 28, 1998
Let me tell you about my friend Dan Durda.

Regular Snackers may recognize his name; his artwork has graced these pages in the recent past. Dan is a planetary scientist who used to be at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory in Arizona, and has recently moved to Boulder Colorado, where I will be eternally jealous of him. Before all that, he got his PhD at the University of Florida, and before that he was at he University of Michigan (phew).

It was at the U of M that we became friends. We were both taking the same set of astronomy and physics classes, and were both due to graduate the same year. We were unlikely friends; while we both loved astronomy and maybe had a tad bit less love for the physics classes we were taking, we were very different people. I hated studying and preferred watching the tube or going out with my dormmates; Dan liked to stay in his dorm and watch recordings of Carl Sagan's "Cosmos" and read old astronomy textbooks. Dan stayed in the same dorm room for four years; in one year I lived in three different places. While I did pretty well in school, Dan always did a bit better, though there was one fourth-year astronomy test I aced him on... but then, that's about the only example. He was always more of an achiever than I was academically.

That certainly shows now. Although back when we were undergrads Dan was pretty reserved, he has now bloomed. He took over the student observatory at Florida, and was frequently on the local news when astronomical events were publicized. He applied to be an astronaut, and became a regular visitor at the Kennedy Space Center. His interest in asteroids became a passion, and he wrote several articles for Astronomy Magazine about them. He is a certified scuba diver, holding multiple certifications in scuba and cave diving. He has a pilot's license.

Back in 1987, I went to visit him during his first year of PhD study at Florida, and he was just starting to dabble into art. Now, just a few years (and two degrees) later, his work is featured by a professional studio of space art called Novagraphics, and on September 27th, the Sci-Fi channel had an episode of their science show "Inside Space" devoted to Dan and three of his fellow artists.

It's really great to see an old friend doing so well, especially in such interesting and different fields. Dan is more than a top notch research scientist; he is an artist, and a dreamer, and a good friend. Dan constantly surprises me, and as science fiction writer Larry Niven once said, "Surprising people are the best ones to know."

For more about Dan, his art, and his scientific research, take a poke at his website. His paintings are worth spending time looking at.

©2008 Phil Plait. All Rights Reserved.

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