Neil deGrasse Tyson brings laughter, astrophysics to Purdue - Purdue Exponent: Features

Neil deGrasse Tyson brings laughter, astrophysics to Purdue

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Posted: Friday, September 20, 2013 1:06 pm | Updated: 1:36 pm, Fri Sep 20, 2013.

Neil deGrasse Tyson polled the crowd about Pluto’s demise as a planet, a demotion he oversaw as head of the Hayden Planetarium. Who still cares that Pluto was demoted? he asked. Around a third of the audience raised their hands. Tyson smiled.

“I just wanna say: Get over it.”

Tyson, an astrophysicist, rose to popularity by communicating complicated scientific topics in a simple manner to the public. A full house of approximately 6,000 people attended Thursday night’s event in Elliott Hall of Music. The crowd roared with laughter and applause throughout the lecture and Q&A session that lasted well over two hours.

Tyson’s lecture, “This Just In: Latest Discoveries in the Universe,” flowed from Pluto’s demotion, to the Higgs Boson particle and then to the possibility of asteroids slamming into Earth.

Leah Shanks, a senior in the College of Health and Human Sciences, said Tyson surprised her in his lecture.

“I expected a lot more scientific, it was more comical,” Shanks said. “It was more reaching out to the public and making a big picture point than just fact after fact.”

One of Tyson’s greatest abilities is bringing together science and politics. In February, when the asteroid Apophis came precariously close to Earth, another asteroid penetrated Earth’s atmosphere over Russia. Tyson said that the science and engineering to stop these asteroids is available, but something vital is missing.

“We know how to do this, we just don’t have a funded project,” he said.

During the Q&A session, questions of “STEM vs. liberal arts” and the utility of science in the real world dominated. Tyson gave thoughtful answers that squelched liberal arts’ prestige.

“We should never be proud of not knowing, ever. There is too much tolerance for scientifically illiterate artists,” he said.

After an hour of Pluto jokes and awe over asteroids and meteors, Tyson ended his lecture with a quote from one of the greats of science: Carl Sagan.

In the blacked-out auditorium, Tyson read a one of Sagan’s most poignant quotes. A picture of Saturn loomed behind him. A pale blue dot gleamed in the background, Earth.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives,” Tyson quoted.

Dane Snyder, a graduate student studying business, enjoyed the lecture, particularly the ending.

“I’ve always loved that quote and I’ve heard it many times,” he said. “I loved that ending, it was absolutely beautiful.”

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