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The Ivy Influence: Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson is considered one of the world's preeminent astrophysicists.
Neil deGrasse Tyson is considered one of the world's preeminent astrophysicists.

DID YOU KNOW: Not only has Neil deGrasse Tyson appeared on a combined 13 episodes of Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, he also played himself on an episode of CBS’ The Big Bang Theory.

Neil deGrasse Tyson has appeared on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, NBC’s The Today Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and ABC’s Who Wants to be a Millionaire and he even played himself on CBS’ The Big Bang Theory. Among Tyson's 10 books is his memoir The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist. The former Harvard wrestler is working hard to bring science back into pop culture.

Four Ivy League schools have influenced Tyson through his life and career. Born and raised in New York City, Tyson wanted to study astrophysics from an early age. He was recruited to Cornell by faculty member Carl Sagan but decided to attend Harvard in order to wrestle and row. An undefeated wrestler in high school, Tyson devoted himself solely to wrestling after one year in Crimson and lettered as a senior.

Tyson graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics in 1980. After obtaining a master’s in astronomy in 1983 from the University of Texas at Austin, he returned home to study at Columbia where he earned a master’s of philosophy in astrophysics in 1989 and a PhD in astrophysics in 1991.

After teaching and performing research as a Princeton postdoctoral research associate, Tyson joined the American Museum of Natural History in 1994. He was then named Frederick P. Rose Director of the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, a job he has held since 1996. From 1994-2003, Tyson continued to work at Princeton as a visiting research scientist and lecturer in the department of astrophysical sciences.

In 2001, Tyson was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on a 12-member commission that studied the future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry. The final report was published in 2002 and contained recommendations that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration and national security.

In 2004, Tyson was once again appointed by President Bush to serve on a nine-member commission on the Implementation of the United States Space Exploration Policy, dubbed the "Moon, Mars, and Beyond" commission. This group navigated a path by which the new space vision can become a successful part of the American agenda. And in 2006, the head of NASA appointed Tyson to serve on its prestigious Advisory Council, which will help guide NASA through its perennial need to fit its ambitious vision into its restricted budget.

Through his career, Tyson has earned numerous honors, including eight honorary degrees and the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal. The International Astronomical Union recognized his contributions to public appreciation of the cosmos in their official naming of asteroid "13123 Tyson." Tyson was even voted "Sexiest Astrophysicist Alive" by People Magazine in 2000.

Besides Tyson's many appearances on mainstream radio and television shows, he is the on-camera host, narrator and executive editor of PBS' NOVA ScienceNOW and in 2009 he created StarTalk, a National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded radio program in which he discusses various scientific topics with celebrity guests.

Tyson has over 86,000 subscribers on Facebook ( and more than 300,000 followers on Twitter (@neiltyson). He is influencing pop culture through any and all mediums, including written word, online, radio and television. Tyson has taken over the role of one of his influences, Sagan, in promoting science to the masses.

Tyson lives in New York City with his wife and two children.