Neil Degrasse Tyson the Peoples Astrophysicist

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Neil DeGrasse Tyson: The People's Astrophysicist

Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson is a prominent member of America's science community, but he is also a great teacher and speaker about learning and the sciences.  Tyson has had a varied learning carrier as well as a varied professional life.  Neil Tyson is an inspiration to those around him to help better understand the universe.

Tyson was born in New York City on October fifth, 1958.  He was raised by his parents Sunchita Feliciano Tyson and Cyril DeGrasse Tyson.  When Tyson was nine his interest in astronomy began when he looked up at the moon through a pair of his friend's binoculars.  His parents supported Tyson with books on astronomy, and when Tyson was 13 they took him to New York's Hayden Planetarium.  Tyson than began to attend events there where speakers would come and discus space and what populates it.  Tyson worked odd jobs, such as walking neighbors dogs, to pay for his first telescope.  Tyson earned several scholarships which helped pay for a trip to Africa and Stonehenge, England to look up at the stars with his new telescope.  He was the youngest person on both of the trips he took to “star gaze”.

In 1973 Tyson was accepted to and attended the Bronx High School of Science.  There he was surrounded by other young students interested in sciences which helped to further his interest in astrophysics.  With the advice from the director of the Hayden Planetarium Tyson “majored” in advanced math studies in preparation for his college carrier in astrophysics.  While attending the school Tyson was the captain of the varsity wrestling team.  Tyson graduated in 1976, and he then moved to Boston to attend Harvard University.  While at Harvard Tyson studied physics, and he was also on the varsity wrestling team.  In 1980 Tyson earned his bachelor's degree in physics.  Tyson then moved to Austin, Texas to attend the University of Texas to earn his masters in physics.  Tyson then returned home to New York to attend Columbia University to earn his doctorate in astrophysics. 

            After graduation from Columbia University Tyson accepted a research and teaching position at Princeton University in New Jersey.  While teaching there Tyson did research in observable events in space, and this consecrated on dwarf stars and dwarf solar systems and galaxies.  Dwarf in this case refers to stars that are about half the size of the sun or smaller, and solar systems and galaxies of smaller size than what is considered average.  In 1995 Tyson started writing articles for Natural History magazine entitled “Universe”.  Previously Tyson had been writing papers and articles for Astronomical Journal  which lasted from 1983 to 1998.  His articles and his teaching at Princeton gained him notice in the scientific world and he was offered a job at the New York Hayden Planetarium in response.  He was initially only a staff scientist and researcher at the planetarium, but in 1996 he was  appointed Fredrick P. Rose director of the museum and planetarium.  Tyson also holds a position as a research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the museum.

Shortly after taking over as director of the Hayden planetarium Tyson became infamous with the public and school children around the country when he demoted Pluto by removed the planet from planetarium's exhibit of the solar system.  While many in the science community where in agreement with Tyson nobody had stood up and said that the scientific community was thinking of lowering Pluto's status as a Planet within the solar system.  When Tyson opened the exhibit up after the changes many field trips would enter the planetarium and ask where Pluto was.  Tyson would then explain to the students why he and so many others had decided to demote Pluto.  Which was because Pluto is too small to be rounded by it's own gravity(Pluto is smaller than Earth's Moon), Pluto's orbit does not fall on the same linear plane and orbit as the other planets of the solar system, and finely the recent(within the last 20 years) discovery of the Kiper Belt and other Pluto sized objects are the reasons why the scientific community felt as they did.  Tyson has joked by saying he has received “hate” mail written in crayons asking him to bring back Pluto and complaints about the loss of the “Disney Dog” planet.

In more current history Tyson is now the host of PBS's “NOVA Science Now” program.  He was initially hired to host a 12 episode mini-series of the show in 2004, but Paula S. Apsell, the executive producer of NOVA, felt Tyson did such a good job that she asked him to be the full time host of the show.  Tyson plans on using the show to “bring the universe down to Earth” and to help encourage what he calls “blue-collar intellectuals” to encounter science in a way they have never before.  He is commonly featured on TV shows dealing with science as a scientific expert, such as the History Channel's “The Universe”.  Tyson has also gained fame amongst college students for his many guest appearances on Comedy Central's “The Colbert Report”, he is also the only guest to be interviewed three times by the host Steven Colbert.

            Tyson's notoriety has earned him several appointments on national comity and commissions.  In 1997 he was on NASA's Space Science Advisory Committee in Washington, DC.  In 2002 Tyson was a member of the Astronomy Education board of the American Astronomical Society.  President George W. Bush has appointed Tyson to serve on the commission for the “Future of the United States Aerospace Industry”.  This committee was set up to provide recommendations for Congress on the future of American Space plans.  In 2004 President Bush appointed Tyson on the commission for the “Implementation of the United States Exploration Policy”.

Not only is Tyson an accomplished astrophysicist but he is also an accomplished book writer.  Tyson has written eight books to date, with his most recent book “Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries”.  Tyson's first book was a collection of his memoirs about growing up and being a African-American astrophysicist called “The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist”.  In the book Tyson discuses the joy of bringing science to his community and to young African-American's.  Tyson is commonly doing lecture tours on his books and visiting colleges talking about his profession.  Tyson is noted for being extremely animated about science and is a very good speaker.  He brings an enthusiasm to science in an attempt to reach out to the youth of America to learn more about the universe.

Tyson has been awarded many honorary science degree's from colleges around the country.  However, Tyson was voted “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” by People Magazine in 2000.  Tyson was named one of the “Most Influential and New York City Residents” in 1997.  Currently Tyson was awarded the 2007 American Association for the Advancement of Sciences(AAAS), Public Understanding of Science, and Technology award.  He was presented the award on February 18th, 2008 at the AAAS annual meeting.

Most recently Tyson is still the director at the Hayden Planetarium where he gives lectures to students about science and the solar system.  He lives in New York with his wife and two children.  Neil deGrasse Tyson will continue to influence and help advance the sciences in America.  Tyson is still an inspiration to those around him to better understand the universe

More about this author: Brian Kale

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