It’s Neil deGrasse Tyson’s World—We Just Live in It.
Few astrophysicists are as comfortable on national television as they are behind a telescope. Fewer still have a global fan base that includes a million loyal Twitter followers. Neil deGrasse Tyson is that unique constellation of characteristics: renowned scholar, pop culture icon, and catalyst for popularizing science among a generation of young people.
There are numerous reasons why the world loves the man—11 particularly compelling ones—but his work in popularizing education in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) were chief among the rationale for selecting him as Drake’s 31st speaker in the Bucksbaum Lecture Series.
“He has helped to get science out of the nerd realm,” says Charles Nelson, director of the astronomy and physics department at Drake University. “He’s just really terrific at creating an infectious enthusiasm about science.”
31st Bucksbaum Lecture at Drake University
Tuesday, Oct. 29, 7 p.m.
Knapp Center, Drake University
Admission is free.
You may know Tyson as director of New York City’s Hayden Planetarium, the most-visited venue of its kind in the United States. He gained major public attention (to put it nicely) when he struck Pluto from the list of planets recognized by the planetarium. Although the scientific community later followed suit, the decision has been unpopular among stargazers young and old. (Even The Big Bang Theory’s fictional astrophysicist Sheldon Cooper is displeased.)
You more likely know Tyson from his parallel life as a public icon. Formerly at the helm of the PBS series Nova scienceNow, he makes regular appearances on programs like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and is a trusted source for news outlets, including The New York Times and TIME. In 2000, People listed him as the world’s “Sexiest Astrophysicist.” He’s slated to return to public television in 2014 to host an updated version of Carl Sagan’s PBS series Cosmos, produced this time around by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.
His ability to integrate hard science and pop culture seemingly knows no bounds. He embarrassed talk show host Jon Stewart by pointing out The Daily Show’s globe icon rotated in the wrong direction. Filmmaker James Cameron famously adjusted the nighttime sky in the final scene of Titanic after Tyson criticized its blatant astral inaccuracy.
A legion of tech-savvy twentysomethings accepted him on the internet forum Reddit, where his March 2012 Ask Me Anything Q&A session is second in popularity only to the session held by President Barack Obama.(*Editor’s note: A Q&A by Bill Gates bumped Tyson into third place after this article’s original publication.) In a recent episode of his “Star Talk” podcast, he explored the potential for a “zombie apocalypse” through interviews with the best-selling author of World War Z and the director of the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University.
Tyson’s versatility has made him something of a legend. “Some of the best-known figures in science are only popular among one age group,” says Nelson. “Tyson has a way of appealing to everyone—including women and minorities, who are underrepresented in the sciences. We need that. The sciences need all the publicity they can get.”