Speaking to a full audience at the Memorial Union Terrace, world-renowned astrophysicist and science orator Neil deGrasse Tyson argued for the need for innovation and cultural scientific fluency at the inaugural Senior Day event Thursday afternoon.
Tyson is a science communicator who was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2007 and is now slotted to host the reboot of the late Carl Sagan’s television series “Cosmos.”
Sprinkling his speech with humor, Tyson addressed the importance of bringing science and technology innovation back into the forefront of society.
“If you are not fluent as a culture in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, you might as well go back to living in a cave,” he said.
In his lecture, Tyson advocated the idea that the U.S. is not moving forward as fast as it was several decades ago. He said in the 1960s, the idea of “tomorrow” was a fundamental concept, one that is lacking now.
The driving force behind his rhetoric was his enthusiasm for space exploration and his emphasis on its influence on all facets of society.
Tyson explained how going to the moon influenced and motivated the students, novelists, poets, journalists, television and film producers and politicians of the era.
He also said the economy in the U.S. has “flatlined” as time has gone on. With this in mind, he said science and technology are the agents of tomorrow’s economy.
“In the 1960s, no companies were overseas. That’s because we were innovating. By making innovative products that no one can figure out how to make, that’s how you keep jobs,” Tyson said.
When the space program ended, Tyson said, many Americans were feeling nostalgic. He said this feeling occurred because nothing of similar caliber was following it, and when there is nothing to keep society going or moving forward, there is always the threat of reverting backward.
University of Wisconsin senior Ryan Alt, who attended the lecture, agreed with this idea. He said many in today’s society take today for granted, overlooking the possibilities of the future.
Tyson said this could come with consequences.
“If we are not careful, this decade could turn into the decade of anniversaries of things that happened in the ’60s,” he said before pausing his lecture to send the quip to his followers on Twitter.
UW freshman and lecture attendee Tapan Sharma said he attended because he wanted to hear more about the place of science in society and said he was impressed with Tyson’s fervor.
“The level of commitment [Tyson] has to creating a better future through science is overall inspirational,” he said.
Tyson said he would love nothing more than to see the U.S. continue the innovation that made it a world leader in the 20th century by investing in a program that would send people to Mars.
He concluded with a final statement on a need for change to impact the future.
“We need to do something different tomorrow than [we] are doing today; that’s the foundation of discovery,” he said.