An Astrophysicist Comes to Drew

By Anna Gombert and Colleen Dabrowski

Despite the stifling 82 degree heat and the lack of air conditioning in the Simon Forum, more than 2,000 people packed into the gym on Tuesday, September 26 to listen to astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson’s talk. The famous scientist was the first speaker of the 2017-2018 Drew Forum Lecture Series, which is supported by the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation and the Thomas H. Kean Visiting Lectureship.

The astrophysicist, who is the director of the Hayden Planetarium in the American Museum of Natural History, is probably best known for being a science communicator, as well as having written numerous books, hosted several TV shows and being the founder and host of the StarTalk, a radio show-turned-podcast, according to the Hayden Planetarium website.

Tyson’s talk was entitled “An Astrophysicist Reads the Newspaper,” in which he discussed different stories, from exciting science to downright fairy tales, that have been in the news within the past couple years, taking them on from a scientist’s perspective. He talked about news stories regarding leap seconds, the so-called “supermoon” phenomena and even a story about himself in order to poke fun at how it wrongly reported what ice cream flavor he ordered.

“He made it a point to appeal to the non-science major. He kept it exciting, loose, and didn’t make it feel like we were being lectured to,” said Paxton Siegel (‘20). “My favorite part was when he spoke about the supermoon and the way the media butchers science. It made me feel silly for believing science I read on Twitter.”

He also addressed what he calls “one of the greatest science stories in the last 18 months,” even saying that “It might be the greatest story ever told.” The story is one of two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago, which released gravitational waves that traveled across the universe. The waves were predicted by Albert Einstein but only detected after the development of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in 2016, which was just awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics on Tuesday, October 3, according to the New York Times.

Tyson ended his talk by discussing the recent end to the Cassini Mission and, with one of Cassini’s last photos displayed on the screen behind him, reading an excerpt from Carl Sagan’s book. He then opened up the floor for questions that came from different members of Drew and the surrounding community.

Hours before the talk, the Drew Acorn had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Tyson for an interview. The Acorn team, consisting of the News Editor Colleen Dabrowski serving as the interviewer and Co-Editor in Chief Anna Gombert serving as the photographer, entered the interview armed with questions written in collaboration with Drew students. Dr. Tyson was a gracious interviewee; he spoke calmly and eloquently and was unafraid of throwing in some comedy. The interview encompassed a variety of topics from how to make it in the STEM field to alien life in the universe to the importance of bridging the gap between scientists and the general public. The full transcript can be found on the Acorn’s website: thedrewacorn.wordpress.com or on the Facebook page The Drew Acorn.

Image courtesy of Anna Gombert

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