|Neil deGrasse Tyson|
October 5, 1958 |
Manhattan, New York City, U.S.
|Fields||Astrophysics, physical cosmology, science communication|
|Institutions||University of Maryland, College Park
American Museum of Natural History
|Alma mater||Harvard College (A.B.)
University of Texas at Austin (M.A.)
Columbia University (M.Phil., Ph.D.)
|Thesis||A study of the abundance distributions along the minor axis of the Galactic bulge (1991)|
|Doctoral advisor||R. Michael Rich|
|Influences||Isaac Newton, Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, Albert Einstein|
|Notable awards||NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal (2004)
Klopsteg Memorial Award (2007)
Public Welfare Medal (2015)
|Spouse||Alice Young (m. 1988)|
Neil deGrasse Tyson (/ /; born October 5, 1958) is an American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator. Since 1996, he has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City. The center is part of the American Museum of Natural History, where Tyson founded the Department of Astrophysics in 1997 and has been a research associate in the department since 2003.
Born and raised in New York City, Tyson became interested in astronomy at the age of nine after a visit to the Hayden Planetarium. After graduating from the Bronx High School of Science, where he was editor-in-chief of the Physical Science Journal, he completed a bachelor's degree in physics at Harvard University in 1980. After receiving a master's degree in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin in 1983, he earned his master's (1989) and doctorate (1991) in astrophysics at Columbia University. For the next three years, he was a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University. In 1994, he joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist and the Princeton faculty as a visiting research scientist and lecturer. In 1996, he became director of the planetarium and oversaw its $210-million reconstruction project, which was completed in 2000.
From 1995 to 2005, Tyson wrote monthly essays in the "Universe" column for Natural History magazine, some of which were published in his book Death by Black Hole (2007). During the same period, he wrote a monthly column in Star Date magazine, answering questions about the universe under the pen name "Merlin". Material from the column appeared in his books Merlin's Tour of the Universe (1998) and Just Visiting This Planet (1998). Tyson served on a 2001 government commission on the future of the U.S. aerospace industry, and on the 2004 Moon, Mars and Beyond commission. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal in the same year. From 2006 to 2011, he hosted the television show NOVA ScienceNow on PBS. Since 2009, Tyson hosted the weekly podcast StarTalk. A spin-off, also called StarTalk, began airing on National Geographic in 2015. In 2014, he hosted the television series Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a successor to Carl Sagan's 1980 series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences awarded Tyson the Public Welfare Medal in 2015 for his "extraordinary role in exciting the public about the wonders of science".
Tyson was born as the second of three children in Manhattan, New York, into a family living in the Bronx. His mother, Sunchita Maria (née Feliciano) Tyson, was a gerontologist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, and is of Puerto Rican descent. His African-American father, Cyril deGrasse Tyson (1927–2016), was a sociologist, human resource commissioner for New York City mayor John Lindsay, and the first Director of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited. Tyson has two siblings: Stephen Joseph Tyson and Lynn Antipas Tyson. Tyson's middle name, deGrasse, is from the maiden name of his paternal grandmother, who was born as Altima de Grasse in the British West Indies island of Nevis.
Tyson grew up in the Castle Hill neighborhood of the Bronx, and later in Riverdale. From kindergarten throughout high school, Tyson attended public schools in the Bronx: P.S. 36, P.S. 81, the Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy, and The Bronx High School of Science (1972–76) where he was captain of the wrestling team and editor-in-chief of the Physical Science Journal. His interest in astronomy began at the age of nine after visiting the sky theater of the Hayden Planetarium. He recalled 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 called me." During high school, Tyson attended astronomy courses offered by the Hayden Planetarium, which he called "the most formative period" of his life. He credited Dr. Mark Chartrand III, director of the planetarium at the time, as his "first intellectual role model" and his enthusiastic teaching style mixed with humor inspired Tyson to communicate the universe to others the way he did.
Tyson 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. In his book, The Sky Is Not the Limit, Tyson wrote:
My letter of application had been dripping with an interest in the universe. The admission office, unbeknownst to me, had forwarded my application to Carl Sagan's attention. Within weeks, I received a personal letter...
Tyson revisited this moment on his first episode of Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Pulling out a 1975 calendar belonging to the famous astronomer, he found the day Sagan invited the 17-year-old to spend a day in Ithaca. Sagan had offered to put him up for the night if his bus back to the Bronx did not come. Tyson said, "I already knew I wanted to become a scientist. But that afternoon, I learned from Carl the kind of person I wanted to become."
Tyson chose to attend Harvard where he majored in physics and lived in Currier House. He was a member of the crew team during his freshman year, but returned to wrestling, lettering in his senior year. He was also active in dance, in styles including jazz, ballet, Afro-Caribbean, and Latin Ballroom.
Tyson earned an AB degree in physics at Harvard College in 1980 and began his graduate work at the University of Texas at Austin, from which he received an MA degree in astronomy in 1983. Tyson joined its dance, rowing, and wrestling teams. By his own account, he did not spend as much time in the research lab as he should have. His professors encouraged him to consider alternate careers and the committee for his doctoral dissertation was dissolved, ending his pursuit of a doctorate from the University of Texas.
Tyson was a lecturer in astronomy at the University of Maryland from 1986 to 1987 and in 1988, he was accepted into the astronomy graduate program at Columbia University, where he earned an MPhil degree in astrophysics in 1989, and a PhD degree in astrophysics in 1991 under the supervision of Professor R. Michael Rich. Rich obtained funding to support Tyson's doctoral research from NASA and the ARCS foundation enabling Tyson to attend international meetings in Italy, Switzerland, Chile, and South Africa and to hire students to help him with data reduction. In the course of his thesis work, he observed using the 0.91 m telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, where he obtained images for the Calán/Tololo Supernova Survey helping to further their work in establishing Type Ia supernovae as standard candles. These papers comprised part of the discovery papers of the use of Type Ia supernovae to measure distances, which led to the improved measurement of the Hubble constant and discovery of dark energy in 1998. He was 18th author on a paper with Brian Schmidt, a future winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics, in the study of the measurement of distances to Type II Supernovae and the Hubble constant.
During his thesis work at Columbia University, Tyson became acquainted with Professor David Spergel at Princeton University, who visited Columbia University in the course of collaborating with his thesis advisor on the Galactic bulge typically found in spiral galaxies.
Tyson's research has focused on observations in cosmology, stellar evolution, galactic astronomy, bulges, and stellar formation. He has held numerous positions at institutions including the University of Maryland, Princeton University, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Hayden Planetarium.
In 1994, Tyson joined the Hayden Planetarium as a staff scientist while he was a research affiliate in Princeton University. He became acting director of the planetarium in June 1995 and was appointed director in 1996. As director, he oversaw the planetarium's $210 million reconstruction project, which was completed in 2000. Upon being asked for his thoughts on becoming director, Tyson said "when I was a kid... there were scientists and educators on the staff at the Hayden Planetarium... who invested their time and energy in my enlightenment... and I've never forgotten that. And to end up back there as its director, I feel this deep sense of duty, that I serve in the same capacity for people who come through the facility today, that others served for me".
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 a special edition of the magazine, called "City of Stars", in 2002, Tyson popularized the term "Manhattanhenge" to describe the two days annually on which the evening sun aligns with the street grid in Manhattan, making the sunset visible along unobstructed side streets. He had coined the term in 1996, inspired by how the phenomenon recalls the sun's solstice alignment with the Stonehenge monument in England. Tyson's column also influenced his work as a professor with The Great Courses.
In 2001, U.S. 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, Tyson hosted the four-part Origins miniseries of the PBS Nova series, 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 Telescope, which 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 International Astronomical Union (IAU) confirmed this assessment by changing Pluto to the dwarf planet classification.
Tyson recounted the heated online debate on the Cambridge Conference Network (CCNet), a "widely read, UK-based Internet chat group", following Benny Peiser's renewed call for reclassification of Pluto's status. Peiser's entry, in which he posted articles from the AP and The Boston Globe, spawned from The New York Times's article entitled "Pluto's Not a Planet? Only in New York".
Tyson has been vice president, president, and chairman of the board of the Planetary Society. He was also the host of the PBS program Nova ScienceNow until 2011. He attended and was a speaker at the Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival symposium in November 2006. In 2007, Tyson was chosen to be a regular on The History Channel's popular series The Universe.
In May 2009, Tyson launched a one-hour radio talk show called StarTalk, which he co-hosted with comedian Lynne Koplitz. The show was syndicated on Sunday afternoons on KTLK AM in Los Angeles and WHFS in Washington DC. 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. Guests range from colleagues in science to celebrities such as GZA, Wil Wheaton, Sarah Silverman, and Bill Maher. The show is 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.
In 2012, Tyson announced that he would appear in a YouTube series based on his radio show StarTalk. A premiere date for the show has not been announced, but it will be distributed on the Nerdist YouTube Channel. On February 28, 2014, Tyson was a celebrity guest at the White House Student Film Festival. In 2014, he helped revive Carl Sagan's Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series, presenting Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey on both FOX and the National Geographic Channel. Thirteen episodes were aired in the first season, and Tyson has stated that if a second season were produced, he would pass the role of host to someone else in the science world. On April 20, 2015, he began hosting a late-night talk show entitled Star Talk on the National Geographic Channel, where Tyson interviews pop culture celebrities and asks them about their life experiences with science.
Tyson has written and broadcast extensively about his views of science, spirituality, and the spirituality of science, including the essays "The Perimeter of Ignorance" and "Holy Wars", both appearing in Natural History magazine and the 2006 Beyond Belief workshop. In an interview with comedian Paul Mecurio, Tyson offered his definition of spirituality: "For me, when I say spiritual, I’m referring to a feeling you would have that connects you to the universe in a way that it may defy simple vocabulary. We think about the universe as an intellectual playground, which it surely is, but the moment you learn something that touches an emotion rather than just something intellectual, I would call that a spiritual encounter with the universe." Tyson has argued that many great historical scientists' belief in intelligent design limited their scientific inquiries, to the detriment of the advance of scientific knowledge.
When asked during a question session at the University at Buffalo 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.":341 In an interview with Big Think, Tyson said, "So what people are really after is what is my stance on religion or spirituality or God, and I would say if I find a word that came closest, it would be agnostic ... at the end of the day I'd rather not be any category at all." Additionally, in the same interview with Big Think, Tyson mentioned that he edited Wikipedia's entry on him to include the fact that he is an agnostic:
I'm constantly claimed by atheists. I find this intriguing. In fact, on my Wiki page – I didn't create the Wiki page, others did, and I'm flattered that people cared enough about my life to assemble it – and it said "Neil deGrasse Tyson is an atheist." I said, "Well that's not really true." I said, "Neil deGrasse Tyson is an agnostic." I went back a week later it had been rewritten and it said "Neil deGrasse Tyson is an atheist." – again within a week – and I said, "What's up with that?" so I said "Alright, I have to word it a little differently." So I said, okay "Neil deGrasse Tyson, widely claimed by atheists, is actually an agnostic."
During the interview "Called by the Universe: A conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson" in 2009, Tyson said: "I can't agree to the claims by atheists that I'm one of that community. I don't have the time, energy, interest of conducting myself that way... I'm not trying to convert people. I don't care."
In March 2014, philosopher and secularism proponent Massimo Pigliucci asked Tyson "What is it you think about God?" Tyson replied "I remain unconvinced by any claims anyone has ever made about the existence or the power of a divine force operating in the universe." Pigliucci then asked him why he expressed discomfort with the label "atheist" in his Big Think video. Tyson replied by reiterating his dislike for one-word labels, saying "That's what adjectives are for. What kind of atheist are you? Are you an ardent atheist? Are you a passive atheist? An apathetic atheist? Do you rally, or do you just not even care? So I'd be on the 'I really don't care' side of that, if you had to find adjectives to put in front of the word 'atheist.'" Pigliucci contrasted Tyson with scientist Richard Dawkins: "[Dawkins] really does consider, at this point, himself to be an atheist activist. You very clearly made the point that you are not." Tyson replied: "I completely respect that activity. He's fulfilling a really important role out there."
Tyson has spoken about philosophy on numerous occasions. In March 2014, during an episode of the Nerdist Podcast, he stated that philosophy is "useless" and that a philosophy major "can really mess you up", which was met with disapproval. The philosopher Massimo Pigliucci later criticized him for "dismiss[ing] philosophy as a useless enterprise".
In an undated interview at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Tyson talked about being black and one of the most visible and well-known scientists in the world. He told a story about being interviewed about a plasma burst from the sun on a local Fox affiliate in 1989. "I'd never before in my life seen an interview with a black person on television for expertise that had nothing to do with being black. And at that point, I realized that one of the last stereotypes that prevailed among people who carry stereotypes is that, sort of, black people are somehow dumb. I wondered, maybe ... that's a way to undermine this sort of, this stereotype that prevailed about who's smart and who's dumb. I said to myself, 'I just have to be visible, or others like me, in that situation.' That would have a greater force on society than anything else I could imagine."
In 2005, at a conference at the National Academy of Sciences, Tyson responded to a question about whether genetic differences might keep women from working as scientists. He said that his goal to become an astrophysicist was, "...hands down the path of most resistance through the forces ... of society." He continued: "My life experience tells me, when you don’t find blacks in the sciences, when you don’t find women in the sciences, I know these forces are real and I had to survive them in order to get where I am today. So before we start talking about genetic differences, you gotta come up with a system where there’s equal opportunity. Then we can start having that conversation."
In a 2014 interview with Grantland, Tyson said that he related his experience on that 2005 panel in an effort to make the point that the scientific question about genetic differences can't be answered until the social barriers are dismantled. "I’m saying before you even have that conversation, you have to be really sure that access to opportunity has been level." In that same interview, Tyson said that race is not a part of the point he is trying to make in his career or with his life. According to Tyson, "That then becomes the point of people’s understanding of me, rather than the astrophysics. So it’s a failed educational step for that to be the case. If you end up being distracted by that and not [getting] the message." He purposefully no longer speaks publicly about race. "I don't give talks on it. I don’t even give Black History Month talks. I decline every single one of them. In fact, since 1993, I've declined every interview that has my being black as a premise of the interview."
Tyson is an advocate for expanding the operations of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Arguing that "the most powerful agency on the dreams of a nation is currently underfunded to do what it needs to be doing". Tyson has suggested that the general public has a tendency to overestimate how much revenue is allocated to the space agency. At a March 2010 address, referencing the proportion of tax revenue spent on NASA, he stated, "By the way, how much does NASA cost? It's a half a penny on the dollar. Did you know that? The people are saying, 'Why are we spending money up there...' I ask them, 'How much do you think we're spending?' They say 'five cents, ten cents on a dollar.' It's a half a penny."
In March 2012, Tyson testified before the United States Senate Science Committee, stating that:
Right now, NASA's annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that—a penny on a dollar — we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.
Inspired by Tyson's advocacy and remarks, Penny4NASA, a campaign of the Space Advocates nonprofit, was founded in 2012 by John Zeller and advocates the doubling of NASA's budget to one percent of the Federal Budget.
Tyson collaborated with the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on a public service announcement 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.
As a science communicator, Tyson regularly appears on television, radio, and various other media outlets. He has been a regular guest on The Colbert Report, and host Stephen Colbert refers to him in his comedic book I Am America (And So Can You!), noting in his chapter on scientists that most scientists are "decent, well-intentioned people", but, presumably tongue-in-cheek, that "Neil DeGrasse [sic] Tyson is an absolute monster." He has appeared numerous times on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He has made appearances on Late Night with Conan O'Brien, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, and The Rachel Maddow Show. He served as one of the central interviewees on the various episodes of the History Channel science program, The Universe. Tyson participated on the NPR radio quiz program Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! in 2007 and 2015. He has appeared several times on Real Time with Bill Maher, and he was also featured on an episode of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? as the ask-the-expert lifeline. He has spoken numerous times on Philadelphia morning show, Preston and Steve, on 93.3 WMMR, as well as on SiriusXM's Ron and Fez and The Opie and Anthony Show.
Tyson has been featured as a guest interviewee on The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Radiolab, Skepticality, and The Joe Rogan Experience podcasts and has been in several of the Symphony of Science videos.
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. Footage he filmed on the day was included in the 2008 documentary film 102 Minutes That Changed America.
In 2007, Tyson was the keynote speaker during the dedication ceremony of Deerfield Academy's new science center, the Koch Center, named for David H. Koch '59. 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 piquing interest is invaluable. Tyson has also appeared as the keynote speaker at The Amazing Meeting, a science and skepticism conference hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation.
Tyson made a guest appearance as himself in the episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis alongside Bill Nye and in the episode "The Apology Insufficiency" of The Big Bang Theory. Archive footage of him is used in the film Europa Report. Tyson also made an appearance in an episode of Martha Speaks as himself.
In a May 2011 StarTalk Radio show, The Political Science of the Daily Show, Tyson said he donates all income earned as a guest speaker.
In Action Comics #14 (January 2013), which was published November 7, 2012, Tyson appears in the story, in which he determines that Superman's home planet, Krypton, orbited the red dwarf LHS 2520 in the constellation Corvus 27.1 lightyears from Earth. Tyson assisted DC Comics in selecting a real-life star that would be an appropriate parent star to Krypton, and picked Corvus, which is Latin for "Crow", and which is the mascot of Superman's high school, the Smallville Crows. Tyson also had a minor appearance as himself in the 2016 film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
In May 2013, the Science Laureates of the United States Act of 2013 (H.R. 1891; 113th Congress) was introduced into Congress. Neil deGrasse Tyson was listed by at least two commentators as a possible nominee for the position of Science Laureate, if the act were to pass. On March 8, 2014, Tyson made a SXSW Interactive keynote presentation at the Austin Convention Center.
On June 3, 2014, Tyson co-reviewed Gravity in a CinemaSins episode. He made two more appearances with CinemaSins, co-reviewing Interstellar on September 29, 2015, and The Martian on March 31, 2016.
In January 2016, recording artist B.o.B expressed the belief that the Earth is flat, citing several previously debunked arguments. Tyson responded to B.o.B on Twitter and attempted to persuade him that the Earth is round, but the rapper refused to retract his views and accused NASA of avoiding questions, while releasing a diss track against Tyson. The track, titled "Flatline", expands on B.o.B.'s views about the shape of the Earth and includes references to antisemitic conspiracy theories, saying that "Stalin was way worse than Hitler" and to ask his audience to "Do [their] research" on holocaust denier David Irving. These comments gained the attention of the Anti-Defamation League, which stated the lyrics invoke the antisemitic Jewish-controlled U.S. government conspiracy theory. Tyson and his rapper nephew, Steve Tyson, responded to B.o.B's flat Earth diss with their own diss track titled "Flat to Fact". Tyson followed this with a television appearance on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore to address the rapper: "It's a fundamental fact of calculus and non-Euclidean geometry: Small sections of large curved surfaces will always look flat to little creatures that crawl upon it... and by the way, this is called gravity" Tyson said, dropping his microphone.
Tyson lives in Lower Manhattan with his wife, Alice Young. They have two children: Miranda and Travis. Tyson met his wife in a physics class at the University of Texas at Austin. They married in 1988 and named their first child Miranda, after the smallest of Uranus' five major moons. Tyson is a wine enthusiast whose collection was featured in the May 2000 issue of the Wine Spectator and the Spring 2005 issue of The World of Fine Wine.
List of awards received by Tyson:
List of works by Tyson:
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