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Tech Q&A

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Describe your latest project.
Exploring new ways to bring the universe down to Earth:

  • Working on the pilots for a new radio program called StarTalk, in which I and a comedian co-host have fun with late-breaking cosmic discoveries. We will also interview celebrities who have hidden interests in space exploration.
  • Working on the pilot for a 21st-century version of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Teamed with two of the original three creative principals to accomplish this. It's been 28 years since that landmark documentary first aired on PBS.
  • Still working as host and executive editor for the TV series NOVA scienceNOW, the playful spin-off of the PBS series NOVA, in which the frontiers of science are brought to you in magazine format. Now entering its fourth season.
  • And I just finished the book The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America's Favorite Planet, which is a celebration of the public's reaction to a scientific controversy over the demotion of Pluto from planet status. The book includes scans of crayon-scrawled hate mail I received from 3rd graders after we were the first, in 2000, to create an exhibit for the public in which Pluto was re-classified as a frozen dusty iceball in the outer solar system.

  1. The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America
    $7.95 Used Hardcover add to wishlist
    "A mini-anthology of editorial cartoons commiserating with Plutos plight rounds out Tyson's highly entertaining account." Booklist

    "Tyson documents Pluto's fall with editorial cartoons, letters from schoolchildren, song lyrics, and dialog among disagreeing scientists. He also expertly relates the history and science of Pluto and its discovery. Recommended." Library Journal

  2. Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries
    $7.98 Sale Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "One of today's best popularizers of science."Kirkus Reviews
  3. Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
    $8.50 Used Trade Paper add to wishlist
    "This is the most informative, congenial and accessible general look at cosmology to come along since Carl Sagan's Cosmos 27 years ago....If the casual book buyer purchases one science book this year, this should be the one." Publishers Weekly
What inspires you to sit down and write?
I cannot contain my passion for the cosmos. I would bust open if I did not share it. Writing is just one way I do so.

Describe your favorite childhood teacher and how that teacher influenced you.
The head of New York City's Hayden Planetarium, when I was 14 years old. He was a scientist. He was an educator. He had a sense of humor. He cared that I was interested in the universe. He was my first professional role model.

Have you ever taken the Geek Test? How did you rate?
Of course. Scored high, but nowhere near as high as those who attend sci-fi conferences dressed as Klingons from Star Trek. I must draw my geek line somewhere.

Chess or video games?
I play chess as a video game. Against the computer. Against my eight-year-old son.

What do you do for relaxation?
Read antiquarian books written by scientists long dead. Write with my collection of vintage fountain pens.

What's your favorite blog right now?
Don't read blogs. Too much else to read in the world to spend time on people's random musings.

Douglas Adams or Scott Adams?
The Addams Family.

What was your favorite book as a kid?
One, Two, Three, Infinity: Facts and Speculations of Science by George Gamow... it's still my favorite book. And Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift... gotta love those Houyhnhnms.

What new technology do you think may actually have the potential for making people's lives better?
So much of human life is wasted waiting in line. In traffic. At the grocery store. Buying tickets. Somebody should work on that one. It's the 21st century — lines should be a thing of the past.

If you could be reincarnated for one day to live the life of any scientist or writer, who would you choose and why?
Isaac Newton. Wouldn't need to be him. Just hang out with him for a day. By far the smartest and most influential person to have ever lived. Discovered the universal law of gravitation. Invented integral and differential calculus. Discovered the laws of optics. Then he turned 26.

What was your best subject in high school? Your worst?
Best: Math.
Worst: Spanish.

My performance was inversely related to how much content you had to memorize versus understand.

What are some of the things you'd like your computer to do that it cannot now do?
Not crash.

Describe the best museum of science and/or industry you've ever visited and what made it great.
That's like picking your children. I love them all.

By the end of your life, where do you think humankind will be in terms of new science and technological advancement?
Would be nice if we were to have found examples of life elsewhere in the universe. That would revolutionize biology, giving new meaning to the word "biodiversity."

We have demonized the consumption of energy simply because of the consequences to our environment by the burning of fossil fuels. But the Earth and universe are full of energy. Would be nice to tap the energy of volcanoes, earthquakes, cyclones, or the Sun directly. These limitless sources of energy would remove all the world's tension regarding the location and access to oil reserves.

Which country do you believe currently leads the world in science and technology? In 10 years?
Now: USA.
In 10 years: China.

÷ ÷ ÷

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History, director of the world-famous Hayden Planetarium, a monthly columnist for Natural History, and an award-winning author. He lives in New York City.

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