Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks at UI


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Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist who has made media appearances ranging from “The Colbert Report” to PBS, spoke to a packed crowd Monday night at the IMU.

People from all over the state waited in a line that stretched from the IMU past the Iowa Advanced Technology Labs along the river to see Tyson’s lecture.

Tyson studied physics at Harvard and received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia in 1991. He has written numerous books on astronomy and space exploration.

“I’m going to share with you what the world looks like though the lens of an astrophysicist,” Tyson said in an interview prior to the lecture. “And it looks very different.”

The event focused on a range of things from an asteroid headed toward Earth to other countries putting scientists on their currency.

“I found it most interesting that he’s very charismatic and he’s very funny and just fun to listen too,” UI junior David Koser said.

Some students were disappointed that the focus was so broad and the asteroid was one of the few things related to astronomy he talked about.

“I think that was the only part where he talked about his work,” UI student Nathen Bibler said.

UI senior Lauren Mancuso said she found the part of the lecture on the asteroid headed for Earth to be the most interesting.

“We think we live here, and we think we’re invincible, but we’re not,” she said. “We think our only issues are interpersonal, but there are other issues we lose track of unless we have someone like him talk about them.”

Tyson said he considers space exploration and scientific literacy to be important because such topics encourage wonder and imagination.

“Many people who think of science literacy, they make of a list of things they think you should know,” he said. “I have a different philosophy toward science literacy. What I try to teach people … is really to embrace curiosity.”

Tyson said what makes scientists scientists isn’t that they know a list of scientific facts, but rather that when they hear an asteroid is headed for Earth, they want to figure out how to deflect it, not run from it.

“[Curiosity is] beaten out of us by the time we get out of middle school. I try to reignite some sense of wonder,” he said. “[If you’re not wondering] you’re not fully embracing all that it is to be alive. Because humans wonder.”

A huge part of education is learning how to think and solve problems, Tyson said. That way, regardless of a student’s future career, they can handle whatever job is made available to them.

“If you go to school only to get a job — given that the job landscape shifts every three to five years — I think you are delusional,” he said.

John Dockery-Jackson, a science teacher at Muscatine High School, brought the school’s science club to hear Tyson speak Monday night.

“His reasons [for promoting space exploration] are pretty compelling,” he said. “If we know what’s happening out there, we can better understand what’s happening here.”

UI student Gabriel Jardim said he was excited to see what Tyson had to say about space and space exploration but that he doesn’t think it should be the United States’ top priority.

“I think it’s important to look at the humanities on Earth first,” he said. “But once we’re better as a species, it would be interesting to grow out and go to other planets.”

Tyson said he hears a lot of people say that problems on the ground should be addressed before space exploration is considered.

“We’re a free, pluralistic country,” he said. “I will never tell you who to vote for or what to think, [but I am] someone who will reveal to you the consequences of not going into space and once I share that with you it’s your decision.”

Tyson said solutions for some earthly problems might be in the cosmos.

“The universe has unlimited sources of energy,” he said. “Yet, we are fighting each other to gain access to the energy buried in the sands. Space is a kind of frontier where we know there are solutions that already exist and solutions yet undreamed of.”

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