Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson (born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist and science communicator. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a research associate in the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Since 2006 he has hosted the educational science television show NOVA scienceNOW on PBS, and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jeopardy!. It was announced on August 5, 2011 that Tyson will be hosting a new sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series.
Tyson was born as the second of three children in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, but was raised in the Bronx. His mother, Sunchita Feliciano Tyson, was a gerontologist and his father, Cyril deGrasse Tyson, was a sociologist, human resource commissioner for the New York City mayor, John Lindsay, and was the first Director of HARYOU. Tyson attended the Bronx High School of Science (1972 – 1976, astrophysicsemphasis) where he was captain of the wrestling team and was editor-in-chief of the school’s Physical Science Journal. Tyson had an abiding interest inastronomy from the age of eleven, following his visit to the Hayden Planetarium at age nine. Tyson recalls that “so strong was that imprint [of the night sky] that I’m certain that I had no choice in the matter, that in fact, the universe chose me.“ He obsessively studied astronomy in his teens, and eventually even gained some fame in the astronomy community by giving lectures on the subject at the age of fifteen.
Astronomer Carl Sagan, who was a faculty member at Cornell University, tried to recruit Tyson to Cornell for undergraduate studies. During an interview with writer Daniel Simone, Tyson said, “Interestingly, when I applied to Cornell, my application dripped of my passion for the study and research of the Universe. Somehow the admissions office brought my application to the attention of the late Dr. Sagan, and he actually took the initiative and care to contact me. He was very inspirational and a most powerful influence. Dr. Sagan was as great as the universe, an effective mentor.” Tyson chose to attend Harvard University, however, where he majored in physics and lived in Currier House. He was a member of the crew team in his freshman year, but returned to wrestling, eventuallylettering in his senior year. Tyson earned a bachelor of arts in physics from Harvard in 1980 and began his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a master of arts in astronomy in 1983. In addition to wrestling and rowing in college, he was also active in dancing in styles including jazz, ballet, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin Ballroom. In 1985, he won a gold medal with the University of Texas dance team at a national tournament in the International Latin Ballroom style. He started to work toward a doctorate at the University of Texas, but transferred to Columbia Universityin 1988 after his committee was dissolved. At Columbia University, in 1989, he received a master of philosophy in astrophysics and, in 1991, he earned a doctor of philosophy in astrophysics.
Tyson’s research has focused on observations in stellar formation and evolution as well as cosmology and galactic astronomy. He has held numerous positions at institutions including University of Maryland, Princeton University, the American Museum of Natural History, and Hayden Planetarium.
Tyson has written a number of popular books on astronomy. In 1995, he began to write the “Universe” column for Natural History magazine. In a column he authored for the magazine in 2002, Tyson coined the term “Manhattanhenge” to describe the two days annually on which the evening sun aligns with the cross streets of the street grid in Manhattan, making the sunset visible along unobstructed side streets.
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to serve on the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry and in 2004 to serve on the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, the latter better known as the “Moon, Mars, and Beyond” commission. Soon afterward he was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by NASA.
In 2004, he hosted the four-part “Origins” miniseries of PBS’s Nova, and, with Donald Goldsmith, co-authored the companion volume for this series,Origins: Fourteen Billion Years Of Cosmic Evolution. He again collaborated with Goldsmith as the narrator on the documentary 400 Years of the Telescopewhich premiered on PBS in April 2009.
As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Tyson bucked traditional thinking in order to keep Pluto from being referred to as the ninth planet in exhibits at the center. Tyson has explained that he wanted to look at commonalities between objects, grouping the terrestrial planets together, the gas giants together, and Pluto with like objects and to get away from simply counting the planets. He has stated on The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, and BBC Horizon that this decision has resulted in large amounts of hate mail, much of it from children. In 2006, the I.A.U. confirmed this assessment by changing Pluto to the “dwarf planet” classification. Daniel Simone wrote of the interview with Tyson describing his frustration. “For a while, we were not very popular here at the Hayden Planetarium.”
Tyson has been vice-president, president, and chairman of the board of the Planetary Society. He is also the host of the PBS program NOVA scienceNOW. He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival symposium on November 2006. In 2007, Tyson, who is known for his vibrant character, cheerful demeanor, and awe of the vastness of the universe itself, was chosen to be a regular on The History Channel’s popular series The Universe.
In May 2009, he launched a one-hour radio talk show called StarTalk, which he co-hosted with comedienne Lynne Koplitz. The show was syndicated on Sunday afternoons on KTLK AM in Los Angeles and WHFS in Washington D.C. The show lasted for thirteen weeks, but was resurrected in December 2010 and then, co-hosted with comedians Chuck Nice and Leighann Lord instead of Koplitz. The show is also available via the internet through a live stream or in the form of a podcast.
In April 2011, Tyson was the keynote speaker at the 93rd International Convention of the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society of the Two-year School. He and James Randi delivered a lecture entitled Skepticism, which related directly with the convention’s theme of The Democratization of Information: Power, Peril, and Promise.
Tyson has argued that the concept of intelligent design thwarts the advance of scientific knowledge. In an interview on podcast Point of Inquiry, Tyson defines himself as an agnostic. He has written and broadcast extensively about his views of religion, spirituality, and the spirituality of science including the essays, “The Perimeter of Ignorance“ and “Holy Wars”, both appearing inNatural History magazine and the 2006 Beyond Belief workshop.
Tyson lived near the World Trade Center and was an eyewitness to the September 11, 2001 attacks. He wrote a widely circulated letter on what he saw. On June 6, 2008, after the conclusion of theDemocratic presidential primaries, Tyson wrote an op-ed in The New York Times in which he presented a statistical analysis of recent polling data. From this analysis, Tyson concluded that in a hypothetical election held on the day of the publication of his article, Barack Obama would lose to John McCain, whereas Hillary Clinton would beat McCain.
Tyson has collaborated with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and presented talks with him on religion and science. When asked if he believed in a higher power, Tyson responded: “Every account of a higher power that I’ve seen described, of all religions that I’ve seen, include many statements with regard to the benevolence of that power. When I look at the universe and all the ways the universe wants to kill us, I find it hard to reconcile that with statements of beneficence.“
Tyson collaborated with PETA on a PSA that stated, “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that kindness is a virtue.“ He also granted PETA an interview, in which he discussed the concept of intelligence (both of human and other animals), the failure of humans to heretofore communicate meaningfully with other animals, and the need of humans to be empathetic.
In 2007 Tyson was the keynote speaker during the dedication ceremony of Deerfield Academy’s new science center, the Koch Center. He emphasized the impact science will have on the twenty-first century, as well as explaining that investments into science may be costly, but their returns in the form of knowledge gained, and peaking interest is invaluable. Tyson also appeared as the keynote speaker at The Amazing Meeting 6, a science and skepticism conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation, in June 2008.
Tyson appeared a record eight times on The Colbert Report between October 26, 2005 and January 6, 2011. Stephen Colbert refers to him in his book I Am America (And So Can You!) in his chapter on scientists. Remarking that most scientists are “decent, well-intentioned people,” a sidebar includes the exception, “However, Neil DeGrasse Tyson is an absolute monster.“
He also appeared five times on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart between January 2007 and January 2011, once to discuss black holes and his new bookDeath by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries. Two days after his first appearance on The Daily Show, the book ranked as the fourth best selling book on Amazon. He also has made appearances on Late Night with Conan O’Brien (2007). He served as one of the central interviewees on the various episodes of the History Channel science program, The Universe, and was featured as a guest interviewee on episode #156 of The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe(2008). Tyson participated on the NPR radio quiz program Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! in 2007. On October 25, 2008 he appeared on the series premiere ofD.L. Hughley Breaks the News, a CNN comedic news show. In 2009 he appeared as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, talking about his book The Pluto Files. On June 25, 2009 he appeared as a guest on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon to promote the The Pluto Files and to talk about his PBS show,NOVA scienceNOW. He has been in three of the Symphony of Science videos, We Are All Connected, The Poetry of Reality, and Onward to the Edge. In 2010 he appeared on The Rachel Maddow Show to discuss Pluto’s reclassification, during a recurring segment called Moment of Geek.[clarification needed] He also featured on an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as the ask the expert lifeline. On November 21, 2008, Tyson made a guest appearanceas himself in the episode “Brain Storm” of Stargate Atlantis. and on November 6, 2010 in the episode “The Apology Insufficiency” of The Big Bang Theory. On February 4, 2011, Tyson participated as guest on the 201st episode and again on the 223rd and 239th episodes of Real Time with Bill Maher.
Selected awards and honors
- 2001 Medal of Excellence, Columbia University, New York City
- 2004 NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal
- 2007 Klopsteg Memorial Award winner
- 2009 Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award from the Space Foundation for significant contributions to public awareness of space programs.
- 2009 Isaac Asimov award from the American Humanist Association 
Selected honorary doctorates
- 1997 York College, City University of New York
- 2000 Ramapo College, Mahwah, New Jersey
- 2000 Dominican College, Orangeburg, New York
- 2001 University of Richmond, Richmond, Virginia
- 2002 Bloomfield College, Bloomfield, New Jersey
- 2003 Northeastern University, Boston, Massachusetts
- 2004 College of Staten Island, City University of New York
- 2006 Pace University, New York City
- 2007 Williams College, Williamstown, Massachusetts
- 2007 Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Worcester, Massachusetts
- 2008 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- 2010 University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama
- 2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, New York
- 2010 Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, Connecticut
- 2011 Gettysburg College, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
- 2012 Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts
- 2000 Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive, People Magazine
- 2001 asteroid named: 13123 Tyson, renamed from Asteroid 1994KA by the International Astronomical Union
- 2001 The Tech 100, voted by editors of Crain’s Magazine to be among the 100 most influential technology leaders in New York
- 2004 Fifty Most Important African-Americans in Research Science
- 2007 Harvard 100: Most Influential Harvard Alumni Magazine, Cambridge. Massachusetts
- 2007 The Time 100, voted by the editors of Time Magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world
- 2008 Discover Magazine selected him one of the “50 Best Brains in Science”.
Selected books by Tyson
List of books by Tyson:
- Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier (2012) ISBN 0393082105
- The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet (2009) ISBN 0393065200
- Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries (2007) ISBN 0393330168
- The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist (1st ed. 2000⁄2nd ed. 2004) ISBN 9781591021889
- Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution (co-authored with Donald Goldsmith) (2004) ISBN 0393327582
- My Favorite Universe (A twelve part lecture series) (2003) ISBN 1565856635
- City of Stars: A New Yorker’s Guide to the Cosmos (2002)
- Cosmic Horizons: Astronomy at the Cutting Edge (2000) ISBN 1565846029
- One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos (2000) ISBN 0309064880
- Just Visiting This Planet (1998) ISBN 0385488378
- Universe Down to Earth (1994) ISBN 023107560X
- Merlin’s Tour of the Universe (1989) ISBN 0385488351