"The cabinet is his metaphor about unlocking the mysteries of nature. Notice how the numbering of the drawers seems chaotic until you open them, then the code becomes clear as 1, 2 and 3 swing left; 4, 5 and 6 stay put; and 7, 8 and 9 swing right," Brett explains.
"As for the bottom drawer," he adds with a laugh, "I think my father was saying not to overthink things, some things that look most complex are really simple."
Brett's family moved from New Hampshire to Buffalo, N.Y., when he was about 10 years old so that his father could teach at Buffalo State College.
"I came from a granite state, so I had never seen fossils," he says. "The only clams I had ever seen were live ones at the shore. I picked up that first slab in my back yard and saw an imprint of a clam shell I was so excited!"
When he was a senior in high school, Brett competed in the New York State science fair with a trilobite project and won, going all the way to the top and winning the top prize in the state.
"I decided 'This is what I will do I want to work on fossils and I want to teach,'" Brett says.
And teach he does. Besides teaching in the classroom, Brett is well known for teaching on location.
"I especially like to take students out in the field," he says. He teaches an introductory freshman course mostly using field trips. "There are not many like it in the country. We use an integrative discipline approach out in the field. We look at real rock outcrops and I ask them to think 'What does this mean?' to put each observation in terms of a broad picture of a bigger scheme relative to sea level, climate, things like that."
In fact, after attending the conference in Norway, Brett will come home by way of Gotland, Sweden, where he will be doing some field studies with former
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University of Cincinnati