Nine-year-old scientist has Supersaurus-sized ambitions

(CBS News) DENVER -- A lot of kids are into dinosaurs, but few are as into dinosaurs as 9-year-old Eli Navant.

He knows so much that he could write a book about dinosaurs -- in fact, he already did.

"I'm working on my second," Eli says.

His books, which he self-publishes, are pretty impressive. But those are nothing compared to what he's setting his sights on now.

One of Eli's heroes was the head curator at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. So when it was announced a few months ago that that guy was leaving for a job at the Smithsonian, Eli's first priority was to wish him well. His second was to take his job.

Denver Museum of Nature & Science CEO George Sparks
Denver Museum of Nature & Science CEO George Sparks
CBS News

Museum CEO George Sparks says along with all the resumes he got from Ph.D.s there was one applicant with just a third-grade education -- a third grader named Eli Navant.

Along with his hand-written, three-page cover letter, he attached a letter of recommendation from his teacher.

"He was absolutely serious," George says. "And he's still absolutely serious."

Eli says that when it comes to dinosaurs, at least, he has the knowledge and the experience. He's even been on some digs.

"Most of them were in my backyard, but once I found, like, this -- it looked like a chicken bone, but it didn't look new. It almost looked prehistoric," he says.

Eli's dad admits he may have played a role in that find.

"Throw 'em in the oven, brown 'em a little bit," John Navant says of chicken bones. That makes them look prehistoric.

Behind every kid like Eli there are parents like John and Shalene Navant. Since he was three years old, they have gone to Supersaurus lengths to satisfy Eli's Velociraptor-sized appetite for dinosaurs. And it probably will pay off.

"These are the kind of people that grow up to win Nobel prizes or find a cure for cancer, and you want to encourage that," George Sparks says.

Eli landed an interview after sending in a hand-written, three-page cover letter and a recommendation from his teacher.
Eli landed an interview after sending in a hand-written, three-page cover letter and a recommendation from his teacher.
CBS News

George says he wanted to encourage that, too, which is why, not long ago, he actually called Eli in for an interview.

Eli did really well, but he's also realistic.

"Once I know lots more about dinosaurs, then I apply for another job," he says. Asked whether he'll ever give up, Eli says: "Never."

But George wasn't going to let Eli down. So Eli was recently awarded the newly created position of curator for a day. The head curator position will have to wait -- until maybe fourth grade.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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