Renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to be Commencement Speaker at UMass Amherst on May 8

Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo credit: Chris Cassidy, Casspix.com

AMHERST, Mass. – Neil deGrasse Tyson, internationally renowned astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, will be the featured speaker at the Undergraduate Commencement of the University of Massachusetts Amherst on Friday, May 8. He will address about 5,500 students receiving bachelor’s degrees, as well as family and friends, at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.

Tyson’s professional research interests are broad, and include star formation, exploding stars, dwarf galaxies and the structure of our Milky Way. He most recently earned acclaim as the executive editor and on-camera host for Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, the 21st century reboot of Carl Sagan’s landmark television series. The show began in March 2014 and ran 13 episodes in Primetime on the FOX network and appeared in 181 countries in 45 languages around the world on the National Geographic Channels. Cosmos has been nominated for 13 Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Documentary.

UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy, himself a physicist, said Tyson is an outstanding choice to address this year’s graduates. “Neil deGrasse Tyson is one of those rare individuals who can understand and expand knowledge gained through rigorous scientific inquiry and communicate that knowledge to the public. He is the perfect bridge between academia, with its focus on research and teaching, and the evolving world of modern communication that is knitting the world together at an unprecedented pace,” Subbaswamy said.

Tyson is the fifth head of the world-renowned Hayden Planetarium in New York City and the first occupant of its Frederick P. Rose Directorship. He is also a research associate of the department of astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He was born and raised in New York City where he was educated in public schools through his graduation from the Bronx High School of Science. Tyson went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard University and his doctorate in astrophysics from Columbia University.

Tyson is the author of 10 books and is a multimedia personality and educator. For five seasons, beginning in the fall of 2006, Tyson appeared as the on-camera host of PBS-NOVA’s spinoff program NOVA ScienceNOW, which offers a look at the frontier of all the science that shapes the understanding of our place in the universe.

During the summer of 2009 he identified a stable of professional standup comedians to assist his effort in bringing science to commercial radio with the NSF-funded pilot program StarTalk. Now also a podcast, StarTalk Radio combines celebrity guests with informative and playful banter. The target audience is all those people who never thought they would, or could, like science.

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 for Congress and for the major agencies of the federal government that would promote a thriving future of transportation, space exploration and national security.

In 2004, Tyson was 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.

In addition to dozens of professional publications, Tyson has written and continues to write for the public. From 1995 to 2005, Tyson was a monthly essayist for Natural History magazine under the title Universe. And among Tyson’s 10 books is his memoir The Sky is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist; and Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution, co-written with Donald Goldsmith. Origins is the companion book to the PBS-NOVA four-part mini-series Origins, in which Tyson served as on-camera host. The program premiered in September 2004.

Two of Tyson’s recent books are Death By Black Hole and Other Cosmic Quandaries, which was a New York Times bestseller, and The Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet, chronicling his experience at the center of the controversy over Pluto’s planetary status. The PBS/NOVA documentary The Pluto Files, based on the book, premiered in March 2010. In February 2012, Tyson released his 10th book, containing every thought he has ever had on the past, present and future of space exploration: Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.

Tyson lives in New York City with his wife, a former IT manager with Bloomberg Financial Markets, and their two children.

UMass Amherst’s Commencement ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Friday, May 8. Full details can be found at www.umass.edu/commencement.