Rock-star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, whether he wants to admit it or not, has successfully brought science awareness into the public consciousness of our modern society by writing best-selling books (Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier, The Sky is Not the Limit), hosting critically-lauded television shows (NOVA Science Now, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey), and delivering dynamic talks to engaged thinkers and searchers the world over. With over 1.8 million Twitter followers, and countless media appearances and university lectures already under his belt, and with endless more scheduled, Tyson is arguably the most visible scientific figure of our time.
During his recent visit to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi for their Distinguished Speakers lecture series, held on Thursday, Mar. 27, I had the chance to sit down for a few minutes with Tyson, and gauge his reaction to his popularity.
Record Star: Throughout your career, it seems that you’ve been on a quest to popularize science for our modern generation. Do you think you have succeeded in making science “cool” again?
Neil deGrasse Tyson: “No I wouldn’t call it a quest, because that implies that I start my day and I say, “How can I make science cool again?” That’s not how I start my day. I start my day ready and willing and wanting to just stay home, or stay in the lab. And then people call, asking if I can come give a talk or if I can come appear on the news; and I’m intrigued by this evidence that there’s a huge appetite for the universe out there. I’m not telling people to be interested in it, I’m not hitting you over the head; you’re coming to me. So I said, oh, that’s interesting. So, let me try to be as good as I can be in that role. So, on the talk shows, let me study how the talk show people interact with their guests, so that I can be as good as I can be in that. Or if I’m writing a book, let me write the best book I can write. I am motivated to try and be good at it, but my mission statement is that I just want to stay home and play with my kids.”
RS: If you only had time to say one thing to the students attending today’s lecture, what would it be?
NdT: “That science is awesome. There are people who know they like science; they’re not the challenge here. There are people who don’t know they like science; so maybe we want to ignite the flame within them, or fan the flame that’s already there, but it’s been on a low setting. Then there are people who are sure they don’t like science; those people are a bigger challenge. I think it’s because they don’t really understand how science works. A big part of my messaging is just to share with them how science works.”
RS: So then, for those certain people, tell us: how does science work?
NdT: “Science is not an answer; science is a process. It is a way of coming to understand what is true, and what is not true, about the natural world.”
Tyson’s new series, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, an update of the classic Carl Sagan series that aired in 1978-79, airs Sundays on the Fox network. For more information on Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Distinguished Speakers series, visit: http://dss.tamucc.edu/. Their next guest will be Animal Planet star Jeff Corwin, in the spring of 2015.