Pfeiffer University assistant professor Luke Dollar was a college student doing research on the African island of Madagascar when a mysterious predator ate his science project.
The Concord resident has been passionate about exploring the wild since he was a child, so he went back to Madagascar two years later and started a new project.
He began helping the world learn about the creature that ate his lemur. The fossa (FOO-suh) was scarcely known in 1996.
Dollar, 38, still spends time doing research in Madagascar's forests and in 2007 was named one of National Geographic's emerging explorers.
The title is applied to young adventurers the organization recognizes and supports because their work is making a difference.
Now National Geographic is telling Dollar's story to school children in National Geographic Science, a new textbook series for kindergarten through fifth grades.
Dollar is featured on the cover and throughout a fourth-grade book on life science. Online videos take students into the field to see Dollar and other emerging explorers at work.
It's National Geographic School Publishing's way of creating celebrities and giving them star treatment. It's also a way to give children role models in the fields of science and exploration.
"In addition to being able to do all of these cool things in weird places and living the life of an Indiana Jones, I'm getting to be the person who creates new information that nobody knew before," Dollar said recently. "That's pretty exciting."
Dollar, who earned graduate and undergraduate degrees from Duke University, also wants to inspire adults to become more knowledgeable about changes taking place in the natural world.
He plans to teach a seminar at Pfeiffer's Charlotte campus early next year on current issues in environmental science.
"One of the things that I've noticed is that while we all love the natural world, not all of us have the vocabulary or the awareness to think and act with our natural world in mind," he said.
"That regard that we have for nature by no means has to be limited to an observational or uninvolved level."