World-renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson will give the commencement address at Rice University’s 100th graduation ceremony May 11, 2013.
Tyson is the Frederick P. Rose Director of Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) in New York City. With research interests in star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies and the structure of the Milky Way, Tyson is often sought by journalists as the country’s expert on space. He has served on federal commissions on the U.S. aerospace industry and on space exploration policy and has received NASA’s highest award given to a nongovernment citizen for public service. The author of the New York Times best-seller “Death by Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries,” Tyson tweets to more than 666,000 followers.
“Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of our nation’s most eloquent and effective voices for the importance of basic science to our future,” Rice President David Leebron said. “Dr. Tyson’s speech at our commencement is especially timely and inspirational given Rice’s long history in space science and our current efforts to breathe a new dimension and direction into our relationships with NASA and the Johnson Space Center.”
Rice established the country’s first space science department in 1963, and two Rice alumni – U.S. Rep. Albert Thomas and businessman George R. Brown – were instrumental in the decision to locate the manned space center in Houston.
Leebron commended the students who served on the committee to select a commencement speaker for their hard work in bringing Tyson to campus.
Born and raised in New York City, Tyson was 9 years old the night he saw the Milky Way with “such clarity and majesty” at Hayden Planetarium’s sky theater in Manhattan that he knew he had been called to be an astrophysicist. “The study of the universe would be my career, and no force on Earth would stop me,” Tyson wrote in his memoir, “The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist.”
He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1976 and then earned a B.A. in physics from Harvard University, an M.A. in astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin and M.Phil. and Ph.D. degrees in astrophysics from Columbia University.
After working as a postdoctoral research associate at Princeton University’s Department of Astrophysics, Tyson in 1994 became a staff scientist at Hayden Planetarium, where he has been director since May 1996. He also founded AMNH’s Department of Astrophysics, where he is a research associate.
“I am honored to deliver Rice University’s commencement address during a year that commemorates President Kennedy’s famous “We Choose to Go to the Moon” speech given at Rice Stadium a half-century ago,” Tyson said. “That speech not only established space exploration as a national goal, it forged space exploration as a national identity and secured Rice University and Houston’s Manned Space Flight facility (later, Johnson Space Center) as the birthplace of that era. My wife (Alice Young ’79) happens to be a graduate of Rice, in physics, and so this trip will also serve as a homecoming for her.”
In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to a 12-member commission charged with studying the future of the U.S. aerospace industry. In 2004, Bush appointed Tyson to the “Moon, Mars and Beyond” commission that made recommendations for implementing the nation’s space exploration policy. Tyson served on NASA’s prestigious Advisory Council and received the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal.
Tyson wrote in his memoir that his life’s commitment is to bring people closer to the universe, and he has done that by writing books, giving lectures and appearing on television and radio to educate the public about astrophysics. A former monthly essayist for Natural History magazine, Tyson appeared for five seasons as the on-camera host of the PBS program “NOVA ScienceNOW,” which looked at the frontier of all the science that shapes man’s understanding of the universe. He is currently working on a 21st-century remake of Carl Sagan’s landmark TV series, “Cosmos,” which will air in 2013.
For a National Science Foundation-funded pilot program to bring science to commercial radio, Tyson rounded up a stable of professional standup comedians for “StarTalk Radio.” Tyson continues to host the program on http://www.startalkradio.net/.
Among the other books that Tyson has authored are “The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet” and his latest, “Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.”
Time magazine included Tyson on its list of the 100 most influential people in the world for 2007, and People magazine voted him “Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive” in 2000. In recognition of his public appreciation of the cosmos, the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid “13123 Tyson.”
Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Rob Griffin, faculty adviser for the Commencement Speaker Committee, explained the rationale for recommending Tyson. “This year, the students focused on selecting a speaker that had made an indelible mark in their field, that could serve as a role model for the graduates and that could deliver an address that is inspiring, insightful and entertaining,” he said. “We believe Neil deGrasse Tyson meets all of these criteria, and I could not be more delighted that he accepted our invitation.”
Committee members included Griffin; graduate students John King and Sumedh Warudkar; undergraduates Sunil Bellur, Alex Fernandez, Adara Robbins, Mariel Rodriguez and Neeraj Salhotra; and adviser David Vassar, senior assistant to the president.