Neil deGrasse Tyson
BY DEBBY CARROLL
Neil DeGrasse Tyson is not your average nerdy science guy. Yes, he does own a library of rare antique science books, including a third edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia (which he says may be the most important book ever written). But he’s also the kind of guy whose friends still talk about the nine-course feast (with a 100-year-old bottle of wine) he regaled them with to celebrate the new millennium.
He’s just about as likely to quote a Superman comic as he is to quote Carl Sagan to illustrate a point.
Tyson’s an astrophysicist and an author, a radio host, a frequent TV guest and host on shows such as PBS’s NOVA ScienceNow and most recently, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. He has been the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York for more than 20 years. Tyson doesn’t just study the stars; he pretty much is one, selling out concert-type tour appearances where he flashes brilliance and makes science fun. His deep and powerful voice, partnered with his wardrobe of vibrant patterned vests and suede hats, complete his “rock star” persona. He’s enthralling to watch and to listen to.
TYSON GROWING UP
What’s impressive about Tyson is not just the breadth of the scientific knowledge he possesses, but also his remarkable ability to explain complex concepts to regular people in a way that entertains as it educates.
He’s just about as likely to quote a Superman comic as he is to quote Carl Sagan to illustrate a point. He references pop culture often as he appears on numerous talk shows. What one hears in his explanations is not just clarity, but an abiding, deep passion for what he’s learned.
“As an astrophysicist, I know how and why the Sun generates energy in its core. But I nonetheless well up at the sight of a majestic sunset, which brings out the poet in us all.”
And that passion is apparently infectious, as exhibited by the fact that he has 13 million followers on Twitter where he will point out things ranging from mistakes about science in popular movies to Albert Einstein was a refugee to the USA.
As an astrophysicist, I know how and why the Sun generates energy in its core. But I nonetheless well up at the sight of a majestic sunset, which brings out the poet in us all.
Imagine how much more advanced society would be today if women, who comprise half the world’s brain power, were socially & intellectually enfranchised from the beginning of civilization.
Tyson grew up in and around the Bronx in New York City. His mother was a gerontologist, and his dad was a sociologist. His interest in science, and specifically astrophysics, goes back to his teen years. While attending the Bronx High School of Science (1972-1976), he went on a school trip to the Hayden Planetarium. This inspired him to take astronomy classes there. But his interests didn’t stop there; he was also captain of the wrestling team and editor of the school’s “Physical Science” journal. He started giving lectures to share his knowledge with others when he was just 15!
Tyson Meets Sagan
If you think that’s impressive, you’re not alone. None other than famed astronomer Carl Sagan at Cornell University – at the time considered to be the quintessential guide to the universe – heard about Tyson and invited him to visit. He then offered Tyson admission to Cornell, but Tyson chose Harvard where he majored in physics. He followed that up by earning a Master of Philosophy in astrophysics at Columbia University in 1989 and his doctorate in astrophysics two years later. He worked as a research affiliate at Princeton University and then director of the planetarium there before taking the position he still holds. Talk about your Ivy League pedigree!
He’s also a down-to-earth guy – he’s been married to Alice Young, a mathematical physicist, since 1988 and has two children. He continues to do laboratory research and to write books, although it’s difficult to imagine how he finds the time. He’s served on two presidential commissions and is an ardent booster of NASA and space exploration, which he believes we should continue to pursue.
And although he generally eschews discussions of politics or religion, when asked why he chose this field, he answers that he didn’t choose it. “The universe chose me—I had no say in the matter,” he says. Growing up in the city, Tyson says, he didn’t have a great view of the night sky. So, as a nine-year-old visiting the Planetarium for the first time – when the room went black as night and the dome of stars lit up above his head while a deep voice boomed from the speakers – it felt mystical, almost like the voice of God.
It changed his life.
His autobiography (2004) was titled, The Sky Is Not the Limit.
From what we at GRAND can see, Neil deGrasse Tyson is expanding the limits of how we understand the universe and the view is breathtaking.
TYSON EXPLAINING A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYTHING IN EIGHT MINUTES
TYSON INTERVIEWS STEPHEN HAWKINGS
BOOKS BY NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – DEBBY CARROLL
Debby Carroll is a frequent contributor to GRAND Magazine, and lucky for us, she’s a travel adventure loving GRANDmom too.
Upon discovering how outdated the images of grandparents were in the children’s books she read to her first grandson, Avery, she decided to write a new one on behalf of fabulous, real grandparents everywhere.