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Meet Ed Prather


Chat and Webcast Archives

Career Fact Sheet Print Version

Who I am and What I Do
Hi, my name is Ed Prather. For the last two years I have been working at Montana State University as the Project Coordinator for the NASA Center for Educational Resources (CERES) Astrobiology project. This summer I will move to Tucson, Arizona where I will serve as a Research Scientist for the Conceptual Astronomy and Physics Education Research (CAPER) team at the University of Arizona.

I spend the majority of my time teaching courses, conducting research into student beliefs and learning difficulties, and developing new activities to help students learn about selected astronomy and physics topics. My work currently focuses on the topic of astrobiology—the search for life in the universe.

I feel lucky to be a scientist. My job provides me with the opportunity to work with a wide variety of intelligent, passionate, and very interesting people, while also having the chance to be creative, and to think very deeply about cutting edge topics a the horizon of scientific discovery. For myself, the most exciting and rewarding part of my job is the opportunity to work with students—sometimes as their teacher, and other times as a researcher trying to uncover the difficulties they have when trying to learn physics and astronomy.

While Growing Up
While growing up, I never thought that I would go to college. Neither of my parents are college graduates. As a child and a teenager I was always interested in taking things apart, and then trying to learn how they worked. For as far back as I can remember I wanted to race motorcycles and sports cars. Rather than taking science and mathematics classes in high school, I focused on auto-shop.

Career Journey
After I graduated from high school, I worked as an automotive mechanic and an assembly line worker at a crane manufacturing company near Seattle, Washington. During this time, I started racing cars and motorcycles. After a few years, I discovered that it takes a great deal more money and time to make a living as a professional racer that I was able to put forth.

I still liked to work on cars, but I felt that there was something more I wanted to do with my life. By the time I came to this realization, I was already in my early twenties, and I decided to go back to school. I was not sure what I wanted to study, but I discovered that I was good at math.

I had never taken a physics class in high school, and I immediately fell in love with this subject during my first college course. I was amazed to find out that there was a subject that seemed to describe how the entire physical world around me worked. I remember the feeling of self-empowerment that this new found understanding gave me. For the first time in my life I felt like I truly understood how all the facets of my race cars and motorcycles operated. I also discovered that for me the best part of learning physics was working in groups with other students on our homework and projects.

My career was set, I was going to get my Ph.D. in Physics, and teach at the college level. Along the way, I also discovered astronomy. By the time I was done with my bachelor's degree at the University of Washington, I had a double degree in both Physics and Astronomy. Four years later, I finished my Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Maine.

The path I took to becoming a physicist and astronomer is not the typical one. I was not very good at math when I was young, I didn't find science particularly interesting when I was in high school, and I didn't go to college for over seven years after I had graduated from high school.

My advise to those thinking about a career in science is to find a topic that excites them and then to pursue their dream with passion and dedication. In other words, believe in yourself and your abilities, and all your dreams can come true.

I enjoy traveling, and I've been to forty different states in the United States, as well as to several other countries. I am still actively involved in both motorcycle, and sports car racing. I also enjoy mountain biking, hiking, snowboarding, wakeboarding, scuba diving, and camping.

Archived Chats and Webcasts

Last Updated: June 12, 2002


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