Friday, February 28, 2014

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson Came To Conway, Arkansas Last Night!!!

Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the UCA campus. Photo by Razorbackfoto
   I am still high from meeting him. I have seen Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson give a presentation before (about 10 years ago, in Washington D.C.) and I remember being blown away by it. I knew he was brilliant and charismatic. I asked around about him, and I was told "He's the new Carl Sagan."
  I heard a rumor he was coming to Conway this year, and then I was told he "came last year," so I gave up. I am a busy woman, and I have things to do! Then yesterday, about 20 minutes before we needed to leave, a friend called me and asked me if I wanted her ticket. OH YEAH!!! I later found out it took coordinators at the University of Central Arkansas two years to bring Dr. Tyson here, and the tickets all sold out within 45 minutes of being posted. 

My friend's husband had actually set an alarm clock so he would not miss out on buying tickets for his family to see Dr. Tyson live. 
   The UCA professor who introduced Dr. Tyson last night said, "I want you to stand back. You are dealing with a bad-ass." Dr. Tyson was immediately greeted with a standing ovation before his talk! His presentation was impressive, of course. Bits of scientific facts sprinkled with humor and gorgeous space photos. He was engaging and warm, genuinely funny and entertaining. He poked fun at biologists and geologists, and he promoted his new version of "Cosmos," the beloved television show that Carl Sagan made famous in 1980. 
   Tyson said he refers to young people born after 1995 as "Generation Exoplanet" because that's when we first started finding planets outside of our solar system. He said he liked that name better than "Generation X" or "Generation Y" because it sounded "forward-looking and scientific." 
The famous Allan Hills meteorite image. Is that a bacterium fossil?
   He talked about the possibility of life in the universe and he showed a famous image of the proposed microfossil in the Allan Hills 84001 meteorite that was published in Science magazine in 1996.  He shared a great idea on how to demonstrate the concept of panspermia for children. You can take a box of Cheerios and pour them all over a bed, then take your fist and punch the bed really hard. This would simulate the forces generated by a meteor impact, and would send Cheerios flying up into the air just as terrain from the planet would be ejected into the atmosphere. Little microbes hiding in rocks could conceivably break free from the gravitational forces of the planet and travel across space to "seed" another planet. (Don't mind the mess! It's all for the sake of science.)
   At the end of his talk, I asked Dr. Tyson if he had seen the electron microscope images of the Murchison meteorite, which have structures that look much more biological than the structures in the Allan Hills meteorite. He had not seen them! 
Here are living cyanobacteria on the left, and microfossils from the Murchison meteorite on the right. Doesn't this look more biological than the Allan Hills microfossil?
   While we were waiting in the long line to get a book autographed, one of the meeting chaperones told us that Dr. Tyson talked for more than an hour longer than planned. How lucky for us! And it was so wonderful to see how much attention he paid to the young people who had questions.

   The new "Cosmos" will air Sunday, March 9, 2014, on FOX. Here is the official trailer: 


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