Speaker Neil DeGrasse Tyson Packs the Memorial Chapel

Neil DeGrasse Tyson walked onto the Memorial Chapel stage on Monday, February 25th to wild applause from a packed audience.Tyson was introduced by Vice President of the Physics Club senior Peter Williams.

One of the most popular and influential scientists of the century, Tyson is well known in both scholarly and non-academic spheres for his brilliant research as well as his ability to communicate complex science to the general public. 

While Tyson’s influence and prestige have led him to serve on multiple boards regarding the U.S. Aerospace Industry and American space exploration, the famed astrophysicist has no problem relating to people of all generations and interests. Indeed, Tyson’s presentation, entitled “Stuff You Should Know”, was the beginning of a lecture that covered scientific, cultural, political and sociological observations – with a comedic edge. Entertaining the crowd throughout the two-hour lecture that ensued, Tyson did everything from request more romantic lighting in the Chapel to show off slides of a superman comic that he had been featured in a few years ago.

After being named People Magazine’s “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” in 2011, Tyson, smiling, reminded the crowd to “consider the category.”

Explaining that his lecture had originally been entitled “Ten Things You Should Know About the Universe” before his list exceed ten items, Tyson spent his time onstage discussing a variety of issues “through the eyes of an astrophysicist.” From sharing an indignant letter from a second grader student demanding Pluto be reinstated as a planet, to looking at scientific and mathematical illiteracy in America, the lecture involved subject matter from a huge range of disciplines.

Each topic that the physicist focused on was presented creatively, with Tyson presenting the United States’ profound misunderstanding of science by comparing the currencies of European and Middle Eastern countries to those of the United States. In discussing the United States’ profound misunderstanding of science, Tyson shared a chart of countries whose populations strongly believe in evolution, pointing out America’s place at the bottom, below countries like Latvia. Continuing to advocate for better science education in America, Tyson highlighted the countries’ terrible math skills through newspaper headlines as well as Congressional quotes boasting incoherent percentages.

The lecture was also sponsored by Brothers, the Colgate Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, Colgate Physics and Astronomy Department, Core Scientific Perspectives and the Michael J. Wolk Foundation. A reception followed the lecture in the Ho Science Center with book signings and a light meal.

Tyson has appeared in a huge variety of programming including the Daily Show, Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher and PBS-NOVA’s NOVA ScienceNow and has written regularly for the Natural History magazine. His work on StarTalk in 2009, a space-related radio show targeting an audience with little scientific knowledge, evince Tyson’s ability to reach across boundaries and educate people across a scientific spectrum.

Using his background in Milky Way Galaxy observation and stellar formation research, Tyson also focused on the universe’s impact on human life on earth. Showing videos from the recent meteor explosion over Russia in conjunction with a slide entitled, “Why the Universe is Bad for Your Ego,” Tyson discussed the effect of meteor crashes on to Earth billions of years ago and the effect of such crashes on various planets in our solar system. Turning off the lights in the last few minutes of his lecture, Tyson had his audience leaning out of their seats, completely captivated by huge projections of planets during a solar eclipse. His calm, steady voice filled the silent Chapel, explaining the significance of the breathtaking images. Ending with the thought-provoking phrase, “we are all stardust,” physics and English majors alike were on their feet applauding  Tyson.

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