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Profile: Neil deGrasse Tyson

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When Neil talks about space to groups of all ages, people listen. "He's got a larger-than-life personality," says David Spergel, astrophysics department chair at Princeton. ©Delvinhair Productions

Neil deGrasse Tyson was born in New York City the week that NASA was founded. His fascination with astronomy began in childhood, when he studied the Moon through binoculars from the roof of his apartment building. At age 9 he was introduced to the stars at the American Museum of Natural History’s old Hayden Planetarium; 29 years later, in 1996, he became the planetarium’s youngest director.

Dr. Tyson attended the Bronx High School of Science, went on to major in physics at Harvard, and earned a master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. He returned to New York to earn his Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University in 1991. He is a visiting research scientist and lecturer at Princeton University.

Dr. Tyson’s professional research interests include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of the Milky Way. Like his friend Carl Sagan, Dr. Tyson has played an important role in popularizing astrophysical concepts and discoveries.

In 1995, Dr. Tyson began to write the “Universe” column for Natural History magazine. An anthology, Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, was published in 2007. Dr. Tyson’s other books include a memoir, The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist, and One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos (co-authored with Charles Liu and Robert Irion).

In 2001, Dr. Tyson was appointed to the Commission on the Future of the United States Aerospace Industry. Three years later he served on the President’s Commission on Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy, also known as the “Moon, Mars and Beyond” commission.

In 2004, he hosted the four-part Origins miniseries for PBS’s NOVA, and co-authored the companion book Origins: 14 Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution with astronomer Donald Goldsmith. Dr. Tyson currently hosts the PBS program NOVA ScienceNow, saying, “I relish the challenge of making science accessible and relevant to many different audiences.”

Dr. Tyson has received nine honorary doctorates and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal, the organization’s highest civilian honor. The International Astronomical Union recognized him by naming an asteroid “13123 Tyson.” Dr. Tyson was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2007, and received the 2007 Klopsteg Memorial Award from the American Association of Physics Teachers. He lives in New York City with his wife and two children.


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