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This week’s Soapbox column is a request. Well, it’s more like an open letter to astrophysicist, science communicator, and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, Neil deGrasse Tyson, to consider speaking at World Maker Faire, (or just being our special guest) September 17 and 18 at the New York Hall of Science. We know he’s likely busy, but wanted to enlist our/his friends and fans who may know him to see if this can happen. We’ve also tweeted this article to him @neiltyson — perhaps some of you can help with that too! Neil, if you’re reading this, drop a note to [email protected] if you can make it. If you’re still on the fence, read on while I list why it would be great to see you there!

I’ve been a fan of the recent memes and celebration around Neil deGrasse Tyson as his star has risen in the media landscape. Having Neil at Maker Fair is something I really wanted to try to make happen, and when I saw the video above from a recent appearance of his, I knew the upcoming Faire would be a great place for him to visit, and a great way to inspire makers.

For the folks who do not know Neil yet, here’s a bit about him…

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an American astrophysicist, science communicator, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. Since 2006 he has hosted the educational science television show NOVA scienceNOW on PBS, and has been a frequent guest on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, Real Time with Bill Maher, and Jeopardy!. It was announced on 5 August 2011 that Tyson will be hosting a new sequel to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage TV series.

Neil, if you haven’t heard of Maker Faire, here’s a bit about what we do. Maker Faire isn’t easy to describe, but we think these videos do a pretty good job of showing what a wonderful and unique festival it is. Started in San Mateo, CA, in 2006, and also held in Detroit and New York, Maker Faire is the premier event for grassroots American innovation. As the World’s Largest DIY Festival, this two-day family friendly event has something for everyone — a showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness, and a celebration of the maker mindset. With hundreds of thousands of people going to Maker Faires each year, we’ve also had other well-known folks like Mike Rowe (Dirt Jobs) and Adam Savage (Mythbusters) be part of these celebrations of science, making, and engineering.

So that’s a little about us — more about you! Here are some of the “best of” Neil deGrasse Tyson videos, memes, and more. I think when you look at all of them together, in context of the challenges ahead (we need more people making things), you being at Maker Faire is a good fit.

“We Stopped Dreaming” — Maker Faire is one of the few places left where dreams come true. We gather together to share what we’ve actually made and share how we did it. With NASA budgets slashed and the future of space exploration looking grim, we’ll need to make more scientists and engineers than ever if we’re going to get out of this funk.


You said:

“I see the most powerful particle accelerators in some other country,” Tyson said. “The fastest trains are built by Germany and are running in China right now. I see our infrastructure collapsing, no one dreaming about tomorrow, and everybody thinks they can put a band aid on one problem or another.”

We want to fix that. It won’t happen overnight, but I can tell you first-hand that since we’ve started MAKE, we’ve made more engineers. We’ve been doing MAKE for about 6 years now, and each year, parents come up to me at Maker Faires and talk about how their teenager (now) just graduated and is an engineer, and how five or six years ago they “didn’t do anything, until they started doing the projects in MAKE, then it was full speed ahead!” We hearing this over and over, but we need more people like you, Neil, talking about how important it is to make things and why.


You talk like us. You said:

“If you’re scientifically literate the world looks very different to you.”

We have a slightly different dialect, but we say the same things. Technology can be a mystery, but once you can make something, or take it apart, you can understand it. It’s harder to get tricked or fooled. We like to say “IF YOU CAN’T OPEN IT, YOU DON’T OWN IT!”


Carl Sagan-550X456

You’re doing a new Cosmos — this is awesome. We all want to watch it and help it succeed. There are millions of people who visit the MAKE site each month — we know they want to see you take on the task of becoming the next Carl Sagan for many. When you talk with makers and ask them who their heroes are, you’ll hear a lot of them talk about Carl getting them excited about learning.

More than three decades after it aired, Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking, brilliant 13-part TV series Cosmos:A Personal Voyage will finally get a sequel.

Cosmos, which originally ran in 1980 and was rerun many times over the following decade, is widely regarded as one of the first, and best, TV shows to make science accessible to everyone. You can watch the show now on Hulu, but despite its brilliance, it’s still a show from more than 30 years ago, and you can tell — the special effects are primitive by today’s standards, but more importantly some of the content has been superseded by discoveries in the intervening years.

So, it’s high time someone made a sequel to it, and now someone is! In partnership with Sagan’s colleagues Ann Druyan (who is also his widow) and Steven Soter, Seth MacFarlane — yes, that Seth MacFarlane — is going to produce a new 13-part series to serve as a sequel and modern update to Sagan’s masterpiece.

Taking over the hosting duties will be none other than well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has served as host of NOVA ScienceNOW on PBS for the past five years, so he has plenty of experience making science accessible to the general public. It would be difficult to think of anyone who would be better able to succeed the late, great Carl Sagan.


Maker Faire NYC is a good thing for New York. I live a few blocks from ground zero, just like you do, here in downtown NYC. You go to the same gym as me, but I’ve never said hi because that might be weird, but anyway, in addition to writing here at MAKE I work/live in a real electronics factory. We have a laser cutter, pick-and-place machine, and Limor Fried (my partner and founder of Adafruit Industries) is an engineer. Our goal is to make more people who can make things. As we approach the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, we are proud to have our company here, being part of MAKE, and having a Maker Faire helps NYC continue to grow. There are a few science events, but this is the only one that I would say is more of an engineering event — a subtle but notable difference.


I 100% agree Pluto wasn’t a planet, most makers agree (OK, I think, maybe, I don’t really know — they’ll tell us in the comments below). This isn’t really a reason to come to Maker Faire, but know you’ll be amongst friends.


OK, so hopefully I made the case here. I’m hoping folks politely tweet you encouraging you to attend (and speak!) and if you’ve read this far, please drop us a line on the special email address we created just for this!

Folks, post up in the comments and we’ll see you at Maker Faire NYC in a month!

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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