Steven D. Aird
Blessed with wonderful parents, it was my father who engendered in me a love of all living things. A frustrated biologist turned demographer, John Shields Aird encouraged my interest in all things zoological, and from the time I turned 5, my family lived in a veritable zoo. I became particularly enamored of reptiles and amphibians, an affliction from which, happily, I never recovered.
My father, who was the finest wordsmith I have ever known, also taught me to write. I admit that as a small boy, I did not enjoy his editorial efforts. That is because I was a lazy kid, and every time he corrected a paper of mine, I then had to rewrite it. But I found nothing objectionable about the grades I got on my papers. Eventually my attitude changed and I actively sought his critiques.
I was fortunate to have received my primary and secondary school education in Montgomery County, Maryland, which at that time, was considered one of the best public school systems in the United States. From there I attended Montana State University where I received an excellent education in the natural sciences. Among the mentors who guided my professional development, none had a greater impact than John Hamilton Rumely, a plant taxonomist and gifted botanical illustrator, who opened my eyes to the world of plants. Although I had planned to become an ecologist, when in the spring of 1971, I inadvertently crawled into the mouth of a rattlesnake den near Belgrade, Montana, I became smitten with rattlesnakes, though not bitten. That came later.
An M.S. at Northern Arizona University enabled my love of rattlesnakes to flourish and Gilbert Pogany allowed me to study venom synthesis in rattlesnakes. I drove to the University of Arizona in Tucson in order to photocopy hundreds of pages from the journal Toxicon in order to learn all I could about snake venoms. Thereafter, another wonderful mentor, David Pettus, at Colorado State University, took me on as a Ph.D. student, sight unseen, and allowed me to pursue my interests in rattlesnake ecology and venom chemistry. Tackling a project that was much too large, with ambitious field and lab components, I struggled for 8.5 years until I completed the study. One more mentor was to impact my life in a profound way.
In August, 1983, I attended a joint meeting of the Herpetologists' League and the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles at the University of Utah, where I gave a presentation on genetics of L-amino acid oxidase in rattlesnake venom. Afterward, a zoology professor named David Duvall from the University of Wyoming approached me and asked me to contact a colleague of his in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Department at Wyoming, named Ivan Kaiser, a nucleic acid chemist who was just starting to work on snake venoms. I really wanted to do a post-doc with someone established in toxinology, but as an impoverished grad student, I asked the most important question, "Does he have any money?" David affirmed that he did, and I promised to call Ivan. As soon as I returned to Fort Collins, I did so. We had a very enjoyable conversation. Ivan wanted to work on venom of the midget-faded rattlesnake, but the only individual in the country who had some, refused to part with it. I said, "Well, Ivan, I guess you just have to know the right people.” "What do you mean?" he asked. "I have 30 of those snakes in a room just down the hall." He drove down from Laramie the next day to interview me, which shows that there is nothing like having the right qualifications for a job! That was the start of four very happy and productive years at the University of Wyoming. Ivan was an extremely good experimentalist and I will always be grateful for everything he taught me.
After my post-doc, I worked four years at a small pharmaceutical company in Salt Lake City, Utah, investigating spider venom chemistry. Thereafter I spent four years in Brasil as a visiting professor and visiting researcher at two universities in northeastern Brasil, where I edited many manuscripts for colleagues whose native language was not English. I then taught for six years at Norfolk State University in Virginia, before moving to Okinawa to teach biology at the University of Maryland University College on U.S. military bases. Finally, I became the Technical Editor at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, where I remained for seven years.