Neil deGrasse Tyson is like that magnetic professor some were fortunate to have in college. The astrophysicist is full of energy and hope, particularly when he’s holding court.
Anyone who witnessed Tyson host the acclaimed PBS program “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” understands.
“I’ve always loved learning everything about science,” Tyson says. “It’s fascinating.”
His eloquent communication skills help explain the complexities of science, and explain why he’s in demand and a pop culture figure, too. He just hosted a fan event for Kelly Clarkson’s album release Nov. 1 and discussed the meaning of life (which also is the name of her album) with the original “American Idol” winner.
“I get between 100 and 200 requests a month to go out and do talks,” says Tyson, 59, who is director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York.
Tyson will give one of those talks Nov. 16 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, his third time at the venue.
Tyson’s eventual vocation was evident at an early age. “I just wondered what’s up there?” he said. “What’s out there? How far does it go? Who knows what’s out there?”
That wonderment carries over these days to the questions he fields from fans and in interviews.
He’s disappointed that America has fallen behind in science and the space race.
“It’s sad, but I have to say that I would be deeply concerned if no other country was picking up the mantel,” Tyson says. “But there are other countries that are intensely interested in scientific advancement. But I do wish it was like it was back when I was a child and it was the golden age for space exploration in this country.”
“I would like to go back to the 1964 World’s Fair and bottle all of the enthusiasm that Americans had back then for science,” Tyson said. “It really is fascinating.”
The inquisitive Tyson is often asked about aliens, and he says he would love it if an extraterrestrial landed on Earth.
“It would be so cool,” Tyson says. “If that happened, that would mean they were smarter than we are and have more advanced technology. If something like that were to happen, think about what we could learn. Perhaps we could learn immediately what it would take 100 years to discover.”
That’s fascinating stuff considering how different life was back in 1917. But without any proof, Tyson knows aliens haven’t landed here.
“It’s funny since testimony is held in the highest regard in the court of law,” Tyson says. “But it’s the opposite in the world of science. It’s not enough for someone to bear witness to an event. We need some sort of tangible proof.”
Tyson is an excitable fellow, and that’s clear when he gets talking.
“Working with Neil is one of my favorite things,” said comic Eugene Mirman, who appears on “StarTalk,” the radio and television program featuring Tyson.
“Neil makes science understandable and fun,” Mirman said. “Too bad all science teachers aren’t like him.”
And as much as Tyson enjoys teaching, he limits the number of appearances each month.
“I would rather stay home and play with my kids,” he said. “I can’t do more than that because I want to enjoy my life. I want to go out to slightly overpriced restaurants and hope that I’ll enjoy something that I’ll remember for days. It’ll be something different for the audience. Hopefully they’ll take what I present and remember it for days like that really good meal I occasionally have.”
Who: Neil deGrasse Tyson
When: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16
Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham
Info: 919-680-2787, dpacnc.com