From lab to lecture, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tours Colgate

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Seeing Neil deGrasse Tyson deliver an exuberant lecture to a standing-room crowd at Memorial Chapel is an amazing experience, and hundreds of students took advantage of that Monday night. Now imagine being a physics or astronomy major with the opportunity to share your research with the acclaimed astrophysicist.

The director of the Hayden Planetarium visited with students across scientific disciplines while touring the Robert H.N. Ho Science Center Monday afternoon. It was there that Tyson peppered questions at Damian Roesler ‘13 and Maggie Dievendorf ‘13, as they explained their investigation into the age of certain meteorites with Assistant Professor of Physics Jonathan Levine.

Katie Iadana ‘13 showed Tyson her thesis work examining the size of extra solar planet TrES-1, and Michael Fusco ‘13 talked about his senior research of eclipsing binary star system RZ Cas as Tyson looked over his shoulder at data charted on a computer screen.

At the Ho Tung Visualization Lab, Tyson reclined in a chair and watched as student-developed presentations came to life on the dome, but interrupted when he was shown an example of constellations with multiple planets passing through. “I can do much better than this,” he said, calling out a date in which five planets aligned above China in 1952.

“I think that’s the greatest alignment there is. It’s been my test of people’s projectors,” Tyson said, as Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars sped across the digital sky and fell into alignment just before dawn. The visualization lab had passed his test.

At the ALANA Cultural Center, Tyson spent more than an hour taking questions, (his favorite movie is the Matrix), and expounding on the mysteries of the universe in a conversational manner so often absent in discussions of complex science. He also spoke to the educational system in the United States, and gave a bit of career advice.

“The value of a liberal arts education is to complete what it is to be human in this world,” Tyson said. “… Pick a career path that so enchants you that you would do it for free, and you will never have an unhappy day in your life.”

Tyson also sat down for dinner with faculty and students from the astronomy and physics departments prior to his evening lecture. His visit was sponsored by the Physics Club, Brothers, the Michael J. Wolk Lecture Series, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Division of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, and Core Scientific Perspectives.

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks with students at the ALANA Cultural Center as part of his visit to Colgate University.

Neil deGrasse Tyson speaks with students at the ALANA Cultural Center. (Photo by Andy Daddio)


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See how Tyson’s visit played out on social media

Tyson originally said his talk at Memorial Chapel would be about 10 things you should know about the universe, but he revised it to “Stuff you should know,” after he realized his list was far longer than 10. Here is a sampling from his lecture …

Pluto had it coming. The planet’s demotion, which he publicly supported, was well deserved… especially considering the Earth’s moon is five-times the mass of Pluto.

The Universe is like a time machine. Pictures of the farthest reaches of space are photos of the distant past, as that light takes millions of years to travel to Earth.

Molecules are small. There are more molecules in one cup of water than there are cups of water in all the oceans on Earth.

We are all stardust. The elements in our bodies are the same as those formed in the birth and death of stars.