- Written by Tonya Gary
Imagine having one of the world's most famous scientists ask you to attend one of the most prestigious universities in the country. Wait, there's more. You're 15 years old, he's Carl Sagan, a world-renown astronomer, and the school is Cornell University. Well, that is exactly what happened to Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium.
Dr. Tyson was born and raised in the Bronx, New York City on October 5, 1958. His parents were Cyril and Sunchita Tyson. Cyril was a sociologist and human resource commissioner for a New York City Mayor, and Sunchita was a gerontologist. Neil attended the Bronx High School of Science and passionately studied astronomy. He made a name for himself in the astronomy community by giving lectures at the age of 15.
Even though Carl Sagan, a faculty member at Cornell at the time, contacted Dr. Tyson to make a pitch for his attendance at Cornell, Neil chose Harvard University instead. There, he majored in Physics, was a member of the crew team as a Freshman and lettered in wrestling in his Senior year. After receiving his B.A., Dr. Tyson went on to attend the University of Texas at Austin were he won a gold medal along with the dance team, in the International Latin Ballroom style. He began a doctoral program but transferred to Columbia University where he earned a PhD in Astrophysics.
As director of the Hayden Planetarium, Dr. Tyson has removed Pluto from its place as the ninth planet in our solar system. He made the controversial decision to change Pluto's classification to “dwarf planet.” Hate mail ensued but his assessment was upheld by the I.A.U. The reasoning is that terrestrial objects should be grouped together; gas giants together and Pluto with other like objects.
The author of several popular astronomy books, Tyson has also written for Natural History magazine, a column titled “Universe.” He has also held a Presidential appointment on the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry and on the Presidential Commission on Implementation of US Exploration Policy (also known as the Moon Mars and Beyond Commission). He also received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal.
Dr. Tyson's ability to communicate his passion for astronomy is not confined to writing. He has also hosted the PBS miniseries Nova and has appeared regularly on the series The Universe, which can be seen on the History Channel. There have also been numerous media appearances on The Colbert Report, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien, NPR and CNN.
Dr. Tyson lives in New York City with his wife and two children.
So, the next time you look up at the stars, think of Neil deGrasse Tyson and know that no dream is out of reach no matter how far away it may seem.
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