March 06, 2014, BY Heather Johns

Neil deGrasse Tyson
Neil deGrasse Tyson speaking at the Bucknell Forum.

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LEWISBURG, Pa. — First, Neil deGrasse Tyson took off his shoes. He wiggled his toes in his socks and padded across the stage in the Weis Center for the Performing Arts at Bucknell University. He squinted out into the audience.

Every one of the 1,200 seats were filled, and Tyson smiled.

It was the first Bucknell Forum talk of the spring semester, a much-anticipated entry in the tech/no series on the perils and promises of technology. Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose director at the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City, is an astrophysicist and author, as well as host of the new Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey reboot.

The mysteries of the universe are undeniable, but Tyson kept no secrets about where he stood on the Bucknell Forum series' central question. His talk, "This Just In: Latest Discoveries of the Universe," would fall firmly on the side of tech. "Most scientists will tell you that all technology is good," said Tyson. "Let's check that box right now."

Tyson's two-hour talk was filled with memorable moments — from his thoughts on the Mars Rover to a dark energy interpretive dance and even to a brief YouTube detour to watch the Large Hadron Rap. Though difficult to elevate just one, perhaps it was when Tyson coined a new phrase to describe the generation born after 1995, "Generation Exoplanet." He was so tickled, he tweeted about it from the stage.

He maintained an unshakable exuberance for his field, even when explaining the most horrifying of cosmic realities. "Earth wants to kill you," Tyson told the audience, smiling. "For that matter, the Universe wants to kill you, too." He predicted the ever-expanding universe will end "not in fire, but in ice," demonstrated the relentless suck of a black hole, played a video simulation of a tsunami resulting from a possible asteroid impact in 2036 - and through it all, the joy never left his face.

Tyson ended his talk in the dark, with the screen lit with Saturn's rings behind him, a pale blue dot visible in the distance. "Look again at that dot," Tyson read aloud from Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot. "That's home. That's us."

The Weis Center was silent while Tyson read, proving that he had pulled closer the ever-expanding, doomed universe - and showed that it's possible to ponder the stars while in your socks, right here on earth.


Note: WVIA will broadcast an earlier Q&A between Tyson; Professor Ned Ladd, physics and astronomy; and two Bucknell students, "The Bucknell University Forum Presents: A Conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson," six times (March 17 at 7 p.m., March 19 at 10 p.m., March 20 at 8 p.m., March 23 at 3 p.m., March 28 at 7 p.m. and March 30 at noon).

The Bucknell Forum series, tech/no, will continue on Tuesday, March 25, with a special presentation featuring Bucknell alumnus Dr. David Scadden, a world leader in stem cell research and co-founder of the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. The event, to be held at the Vaughan Literature Building in Trout Auditorium at 7:30 p.m., is free and open to the public.