Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the host of the PBS show “NOVA scienceNOW” and a frequent guest on the talk-show circuit, spoke for more than two hours before a sold-out crowd in the Anderson Center Tuesday.
Tyson’s business jacket paired with casual jeans and shoe-less feet matched his commitment to both the high sciences, and the laymen to whom he speaks.
Over the years, Tyson has slowly transformed from an experimental scientist, to a blurred amalgam of educator and spokesman for the sciences.
“In both his books and his speeches he is able to communicate a lot of these big picture things to people who may not initially be interested in it, or don’t understand it that well,” said Tyler Degener, a sophomore majoring in biology. “Most scientists‘ audience is other scientists, Dr. Tyson’s audience is the people.”
Five students had the opportunity to eat dinner with Tyson before his show. The Student Association Programming Board created a competition playing off a viral Tyson “badass” meme, in which students had to post the reasons that made them badass on the Programming Board’s Facebook page.
“Tyson offered to have dinner with a group of students, what better way to choose the guests than with a creative competition,” Cornell, the SA vice president for programming, wrote in an email. “I loved the diversity of the winners. It was great that the public got to choose who deserved the dinner as well.”
Degener posted about his work for Relay Binghamton, a fundraiser that raised nearly $50,000 to fight cancer, earning him more than 140 likes and a spot at Tyson’s table. Degener told Pipe Dream he was a longtime fan of Tyson, so he planned to enter the competition as soon as he heard about it.
“I was sure to post my project almost as soon as it started,” Degener said. “I was very excited with the opportunity.”
Although Tyson arrived at the dinner more than an hour behind schedule, the winners of the competition still had time to ask Tyson about his feelings on science education and the nation’s space program.
“He talked a lot when he answered questions,” Degener said. “He went really in depth.”
Tyson immediately faced questions about his public criticism of the star-patterns in the film “Titanic,” which eventually resulted in James Cameron incorporating a more factually accurate sky in the director’s cut.
“He took all these pains to make the ship look as realistic as possible, and then he just craps on the sky,” Tyson told the students at the dinner.
Cornell wrote that Tyson had no hard feelings about the SAPB’s decision to use the meme to decide the guests.
“He was a good sport, and took a ‘badass’ picture with myself and my marketing chair,” she wrote.
In his talk following the dinner, titled “All the ways the universe is trying to kill us,” Tyson managed to deal with the cosmos without borrowing the material from his books.
“I don’t like talking about a book, because you can just buy the book,” he told the crowd.
Derek Gumb, a junior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, said he was expecting Tyson to be knowledgeable, but his sense of humor took him by surprise.
“He was really wacky,” Gumb said. “He wasn’t wearing any shoes.”