Neil deGrasse Tyson, an award-winning astrophysicist, author and television host, visited Ann Arbor Wednesday night for a stop at Hill Auditorium as part of his “An Evening with Neil deGrasse Tyson” tour. The tour began in January in Los Angeles and ends Thursday in Detroit.
The theme of Tyson’s Wednesday night talk was “cosmic perspective,” which Tyson defined as a view bigger than an individual’s own perspective that offers a humbling but enlightening outlook of one’s place in time and space.
In his lecture, Tyson stressed that because humans are made of the most abundant elements — such as hydrogen, carbon and oxygen — they are not different or separated from the rest of the universe.
“We are literally stardust — if that doesn’t make you feel large, I don’t know what will,” Tyson said. “We are not only in the universe, but the universe is in us.”
Tyson also addressed the importance of investing in science, technological, engineering and math research, as well as being comfortable seeing math and science in popular culture. He even suggested featuring STEM researchers on currency, as is done in Germany.
“(It’s) a culture that is not afraid to display the (STEM) brilliance of their citizens,” Tyson said.
Tyson said integrating the sciences into popular culture will help citizens become more scientifically literate, noting that the United States has both a low global ranking for math literacy in standardized assessments and a low percentage of people who believe in evolution.
In particular, Tyson is known for using Twitter to share his passion for science to a broader audience. During an interview prior to his lecture on Wednesday with the Fox affiliate in Grand Rapids, Tyson said he uses social media to help people understand the sciences.
“I offer people a way to see the world that maybe they have never been taught,” Tyson said in the interview. “You don’t have to be fluent in math or fluent in physics, but you should at least be open to what’s going on around you.”
Tyson ended his talk with a quote from “Pale Blue Dot,” a book written by Carl Sagan, a late astronomy professor at Cornell University. The quote emphasizes how small and alone Earth is in the universe and how “there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.”
LSA senior Trevor Picard said the quote was the perfect way to end the talk.
“That quote is my favorite,” Picard said. “(I) definitely liked the part where seeing the pale blue dot underscores our responsibility to deal kindly with one another.”
Samantha Musil, an event adviser with Campus Involvement, said Tyson almost did not speak at the University of Michigan, as his promoter originally considered just doing two shows in Detroit.
“(Tyson’s promoter) thought it was possible to do two shows in Detroit because the market was big enough to support multiple events,” Musil said. “We were able to find a date for them for a show in Ann Arbor that coincided with a date in Detroit, which doesn’t always happen. So we’re very glad and fortunate that we were able to host Dr. Tyson in Ann Arbor.”
Tyson said he is no different from hobbyists who enjoy what they do when he talks about science.
“The passion that I exhibit — it’s not fundamentally different from the passion that people who are really into what they do,” Tyson said. “I don’t think it’s unique to me or to my field. It’s unique to those who love what they do.”