EarthSky advisors select Neil deGrasse Tyson as Science Communicator of the Year

I met Neil Tyson when he was in graduate school in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, and it was clear even then that he was a gifted communicator.

EarthSky and its 600+ Global Science Advisors announced today the selection Neil deGrasse Tyson as Science Communicator of the Year for 2009. Especially considering that 2009 was the International Year of Astronomy, these scientists couldn’t have made a better choice. Neil Tyson is our generation’s Carl Sagan. He is a superb communicator and a dedicated advocate of science literacy for all Americans – especially children.

I’ve known Neil since he was a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1970s and early ’80s. I knew him as a kind person, with outstanding intelligence, a person much more well-rounded than graduate programs back then liked their students to be. He was a dancer, for example, and belonged to a dance troupe. My memory is that he met his wife in that troupe.

Today, Neil is an astrophysicist and the Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Since 2006, has hosted PBS’s educational television show NOVA scienceNOW. He’s been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and other programs.

In late 2009, EarthSky asked its 600+ Global Science Advisors to nominate and vote on which scientists had best communicated with the public during the past year. This is the second year EarthSky has run this competition; last year’s winner was Dr. James Hansen. This year, EarthSky advisors submitted many many outstanding names of science communicators. But when the time to vote came, Neil’s name rose to the top.

Last week, I had a chance to interview Neil. Our producers conduct about 4-6 interviews each week with scientists in the EarthSky studio, but Neil’s interview, not surprisingly, among the best ever. I could hear the conviction in his voice as he talked about communicating science to create a more informed electorate. He also spoke of encouraging children to explore the natural world, about Asteroid Apophis – a near-Earth asteroid due to pass exceedingly close to our world in 2029 – and of his fear that the United States is losing its preeminence in science and technology.

You can listen to the interview here: Neil deGrasse Tyson: ‘Learning how to think is empowerment’

So congratulations to Neil Tyson! If only we had 100 more like you!

Deborah Byrd