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KATE BRENNER/Herald photo

Neil deGrasse Tyson, one of the most noted astrophysicists in the United States, kicked off his shoes and shared stories of the universe at the Distinguished Lecture Series on Monday night.

“I have a lot of the universe to share with you this evening,” Tyson said, acknowledging the back row of a packed Memorial Union Theater.

Union Theatre Supervisor Jonna Shallbetter said DLS attendance is entirely dependent on how well students know the speaker’s name.

“If the speaker isn’t commonly known, it is harder for them to draw an audience,” Shallbetter added.

That certainly was not an issue Monday where Tyson, the current host of the PBS educational television program “NOVA Science NOW” and the director of the Hayden Planetarium, addressed a full house.

During the lecture, Tyson’s main focus was on what he called “scientific illiteracy”. He talked about the lack of science education in our society that has bred a lack of understanding and a general fear of the unknown.

“Here we are in a country professing to be advanced technologically but there are people among us afraid of the number 13,” he said.

After examining a series of situations demonstrating scientific illiteracy, Tyson asked, “What is the cost of this illiteracy?”

He then looked at events including the flooding of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina as an example of the costs of America‘s illiteracy.

According to Tyson, the levy breaking was not the result of the storm but rather, the result of faulty engineering. A significant cause of our nations decline in technological advancement can be attributed to the absence of science education in schools, he added.

“Somebody who might have had the innovation to design the [better] levy did not become a scientist or engineer,” Tyson said.

Tyson went on to say a decreased value for science and technology has come at a high cost.

Looking back on America‘s technological prominence in the early part of the 20th century, Tyson said, the nation as a whole is no longer as curious or excited about the universe as it once was.

Addressing what role NASA should have in the future of the country, Tyson said the space program has lost its innovation and support as a result of the movement away from scientific education.

“We are boldly going where hundreds have gone before,” said Tyson, adding that fact is not going to change without a change in our nation’s values.

Lyle Hanson, a Madison resident who heard about Tyson and his lecture on NPR said afterward he thought Tyson did a good job promoting science and education throughout his presentation.