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Neil deGrasse Tyson


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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.[2]

Tyson was born as the sec­ond of three chil­dren in the bor­ough of Man­hat­tan in New York City, but was raised in the Bronx.[1] 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.[3][4] Tyson attended the Bronx High School of Sci­ence (19721976, 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.“[5] 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.[6] Dur­ing an inter­view with writer Daniel Simone,[7] 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.[8] 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 with stu­dents at the 2007Amer­i­can Astro­nom­i­cal Soci­ety conference

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.[9]

In 2004, he hosted the four-​part “Ori­gins” minis­eries of PBS’s Nova,[10] and, with Don­ald Gold­smith, co-​authored the com­pan­ion vol­ume for this series,Ori­gins: Four­teen Bil­lion Years Of Cos­mic Evo­lu­tion.[11] He again col­lab­o­rated with Gold­smith as the nar­ra­tor on the doc­u­men­tary 400 Years of the Tele­scopewhich pre­miered on PBS in April 2009.

Tyson at a con­fer­ence mark­ing 1,000 days after the launch of the space­craft Kepler, Decem­ber 2011

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15][16][17] In an inter­view on pod­cast Point of Inquiry, Tyson defines him­self as an agnos­tic.[18] He has writ­ten and broad­cast exten­sively about his views of reli­gion, spir­i­tu­al­ity, and the spir­i­tu­al­ity of sci­ence includ­ing the essays, “The Perime­ter of Igno­rance“[19] and “Holy Wars”,[17] both appear­ing inNat­ural His­tory mag­a­zine and the 2006 Beyond Belief work­shop.[20][21]

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.[22] 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.[23]

Tyson has col­lab­o­rated with evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gist Richard Dawkins and pre­sented talks with him on reli­gion and sci­ence.[24] 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.“[25]

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.“[26] 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.[27]

[edit]Media appear­ances

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.

Quote of Neil deGrasse Tyson from a tran­script of an inter­view by Roger Bing­hamon The Sci­ence Net­work [1] [2]

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.“[28]

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).[29] 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.[30] 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.[31][32] On Novem­ber 21, 2008, Tyson made a guest appear­anceas him­self in the episode “Brain Storm” of Star­gate Atlantis.[33] and on Novem­ber 6, 2010 in the episode “The Apol­ogy Insuf­fi­ciency” of The Big Bang The­ory.[34] 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.[35]

[edit]Per­sonal life

Sign­ing a copy of his book Ori­gins, por­trait taken at JREF’s The Amaz­ing Meet­ing 6

Tyson lives in Lower Man­hat­tan with his wife and two chil­dren.[36][37]

Tyson is a fine wine enthu­si­ast whose col­lec­tion was fea­tured in the May 2000 issue of the Wine Spec­ta­tor and the Spring 2005 issue The World of Fine Wine.

[edit]Selected awards and honors


[edit]Selected hon­orary doctorates


  • 2000 Sex­i­est Astro­physi­cist Alive, Peo­ple Mag­a­zine[39]
  • 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[40]
  • 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[41]
  • 2008 Dis­cover Mag­a­zine selected him one of the “50 Best Brains in Sci­ence”.[42]

[edit]Selected books by Tyson

List of books by Tyson:[43]

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