Astrophysicist Awes Alma, Michigan… (video)

Astrophysicist Awes Alma, Michigan: Wisdom from Neil deGrasse Tyson (video)MBREW draft one

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Oct. 3, 2014)

“Shh @neiltyson is about to crack a knowledge egg on your ass #cosmos.”

The Tweet, sent out by @Foodmancing five minutes before the first episode of his science-based TV series Cosmos aired, gave astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson what he called “the highest compliment” he ever had.  As he ctechadspoke to an auditorium of 3,000 people at Alma College on Oct. 1 he did not just talk about the stars, or about being a star.  He also made them laugh.

“I’ve been a little busy lately,” he said. “It’s been keeping me off the streets.”

While Tyson is best known for Cosmos, his life is full with running the Hayden Planetarium in New York, doing astrophysics research, writing books, doing tours and media appearances, getting featured in a Superman Comic Book, and being a father and husband.

Though his face lights up as he connects with people in conversations about science, the work he is most passionate about is the nitty-gritty task of researching the universe. His popularity helps pay the bills while he works, and he has the added benefit of being able to spread passion about learning to the masses. He comes to speak at colleges like Alma because it is part of his calling. “Given what I know about the universe and our relationship to it, I have a responsibility to share what I know.”gallowaycollens1

Instead of plugging one of his many books, Tyson centered his speech around the premise: “An Astrophysicist reads the newspaper.”

His speech took the audience through topics that make headlines, like the fact that he was part of the team that declassified Pluto as a planet (“Get over it,” he said), and the scary reality that one day an asteroid could one day collide with earth (“The universe wants to kill you,” he said.).

He also seed03_ann_warnergave some practical advice, “If you see a bright light outside, do not rush to look out the window.” Nearly 1,000 people learned this lesson the hard way in 2013 when the Chelyabinsk asteroid burst apart in the atmosphere 20 miles over Russia. No one was killed, but when the bright light came hundreds of people rushed to the windows, not thinking about the fact that light travels faster than sound. When the sonic boom came next, every window in town shattered, sending glass into the faces of the curious villagers.

Tyson also gave props to Canada, congratulating them on replacing the image on the back of their $5 bill. His words were not so kind for Louisiana, whose Senate recently voted to make The Holy Bible the official book of the State. “It’s fine if you have a religious belief… but if you’re going to rise up here and create legislation based on a belief, but it’s going to affect everyone on the block, then it’s not a free country,” he said.Judy_Palmer30years

He questioned the politicians of the United States for the lack of funding for science programs, and the tendency for “Americans to cherry-pick” science that makes them happy and disregard facts they don’t like. But he’s also found hope in youth, noting that “science is trending” among people aged 15-30, and one day it will be those people that get to make the rules and guide the funding.

When asked in a press conference about why he was able to find passion and a sense of purpose, while so many others nicholas-schrock-allstatenever do, Tyson explained the importance of access, and exposing young people to many things in the world.

“At age nine, I think the Universe called me, rather than it being I that chose it. And if something else is calling you, that kind of makes it easier. You don’t have to keep questioning what’s going on. It just kept calling to me.

“The sun would set, the stars would come out, and I would walk outside and look up. While everyone else was inside watching TV, I would go outside and look up,” Tyson said.

“Being enchanted by the universe at such an early age, it turns out, is not uncommon in my field, in my profession. I would say that a third to half of all my colleagues were amateur astronomers as kids, coming up through school. They owned a telescope and they communed with the cosmos on their own clock.petsitting

“It reminds you that the study of the Universe is something you can have access to at such an early age because it’s just a backyard telescope.

“Interest in professions early on is not some mysterious formula. It’s a matter of access. I think many families, when they have kids, see their job as to raise them and not have them die… You view it as an exercise in keeping something alive, rather than an exercise in intellectual growth and enlightenment. So my parents, when my brother, sister and I were children… we visited the cultural institutions in my hometown, which is New York City. We would go to the art museum, the sidebar016growzoo, the Natural History Museum, the planetarium. We even went to other things, a hockey game, football game, basketball game, the opera, Broadway Musicals, Broadway plays. A lot of it was over my head in terms of themes, but I got to see all the things that adults do, adults with talent. And that diversity of exposure allowed all three of us to land in a place that best suited our loves and our interest. You can’t possibly know what excites you most without that kind of exposure.”

Though Tyson’s gaze is often skyward, his perspectives on life proved to be very down to earth. He said he is often asked about what he is most proud of, given that he has accomplished so much. “For me the highest achievement that I can reflect on was knowing since age 11 that I wanted to be an astrophysicist and then the day I was granted my Ph.D. I was asked by the Dean to give the convocation. That, for me, was the summit of my ambitions, getting the Ph.D. That was the cake I was baking my whole life. Anything that happened afterwards was just icing. It’s still icing. Cosmos is icing, on a cake, that I baked from age 11 to that Ph.D… everything else is just fun.”

To the thousands in the auditorium, he spoke about the years of hard work, how he’s spent over half his life in school preparing for the life he wanted, and how he couldn’t even manage being able to juggle school and paying rent until he was in his 30s.

“My measure of success is how much enlightenment I have brought myself – that is my currency in the world.”

For more of Dr. Tyson had to say, check out video of the press conference below:

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