I first heard of Joshua Smith in the fall of 1999. I was interviewing Dr. Robert Giegengack in his office for a story I was writing about him [“The World According to Gieg,” January/February 2000], when a young man with a boyish face and a blond crew cut stuck his head in the door. He had a question about traveling to Egypt—passports, required shots, something like that.
“Josh is a gung-ho go-getter,” Giegengack said, after he’d left, and told me a little about him. A Ph.D. student in earth and environmental science (EES) focusing on paleontology—“a dinosaur guy”—Josh had learned about a German paleontologist, Ernst Stromer, who had discovered several unique dinosaur species in Egypt in 1911-14. But his specimens had been destroyed by Allied bombing during the second world war. Josh had the idea, which no one else had attempted, apparently, to go to Egypt and search for Stromer’s “lost” dinosaurs—and had found them, or found something anyway, on a brief reconnaissance the year before with Giegengack and another EES doctoral student. At the time Giegengack and I spoke, Josh was “running around” trying to get funding to mount a real exploratory field season.
Fast forward to this past spring—May 31 to be exact. Gathered in the Benjamin Franklin Room in Houston Hall are a couple of dozen print reporters, photographers, and television crews. They’ve all already gotten the press release, embargoed until then by the journal Science—where the official description of a massive new dinosaur species Paralititan stromeri, will be published the following day, June 1.
Also in the room, besides Josh and the other members of the Bahariya
Dinosaur Project, are representatives of MPH Entertainment, a Los Angeles-based film and television company; Cosmos Studios; and the A&E cable network—the maker, financial backer, and broadcaster, respectively, of a two-hour documentary about the project, titled The Lost Dinosaurs of Egypt, scheduled to run this winter. (A sequel is already in the works.)
To learn what happened in between —from food fights with the film crew to what the Florida Everglades today and the Sahara 100 million years ago have in common—please turn to page 24.
I feel like I’ve always known the name Noam Chomsky, without knowing much about the man or his work. (I certainly had no idea he had four Penn degrees, undergraduate through honorary.)
After reading senior editor Samuel Hughes’ searching profile of Chomsky (“Speech!” p. 38), I have a somewhat better grasp of his work and feel like I know a good deal more about the man. One of the most revealing aspects of the story concerns Chomsky’s complex relationship with Zellig Harris, a linguistics professor at Penn and founder of the department here. As a Penn undergraduate, Chomsky was about to drop out when he met Harris, who also supplied him with some of the key ideas that his own work would build on and expand. Though Chomsky might not agree, meeting Harris, in many ways, seems to have given him the opportunity to become Noam Chomsky.
It was an accident that gave Dr. Kenneth Rose C’82 the educational opportunity he writes about in this issue’s “Alumni Voices.” In a vividly detailed narrative (squeamish readers be warned), Rose describes how, as a young surgeon-in-training, he and some equally inexperienced colleagues decided to perform a delicate operation to replace the severed fingers of a man who had tried to ride the top of a commuter train and fallen off. Though the decision was both irresponsible and selfish, his current patients are the beneficiaries.
Also in this issue, coverage of Commencement (p. 14) and Alumni Weekend (p. 46). And for those looking for repose rather than revelry, and more green than red and blue, we offer a photo essay on the recently-renovated BioPond.
—John Prendergast C’80