Boosting Science Education

By Susan Black

As a child, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson gazed at stars from the rooftop of his family’s Bronx apartment building.

He didn’t know it then, but his view of the night sky was obscured by city lights. It wasn’t until he was 9, when his parents took him to the Hayden Planetarium, affiliated with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, that Tyson saw a star-filled sky.

He was sure that his rooftop observations were correct, and the planetarium display was wrong. “I’ve seen the real universe, and it has just 12 stars in it,” he recalls saying to himself.

Intrigued, the young Tyson delved into learning more about stars and their place in the universe. He saved money from after-school jobs to purchase an old telescope that he lugged to the rooftop, and he pored over science books his parents purchased from remainder shelves in city bookshops. “I’m going to be an astrophysicist,” he proclaimed.

Tyson achieved his goal, earning a doctorate in astrophysics and publishing scientific papers and books on exploding stars, the Milky Way, dark matter, and other far-ranging topics. Today, he appears on the Nova “ScienceNow” programs on PBS. And he’s the director of the Hayden Planetarium, the very spot where he first confronted the truth about stars. 

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