A new story from Design Matters with Debbie Millman


A full throated, poetic invocation of the power of science and the beauty of the world it has revealed. Neil deGrasse Tyson welcome to design matters. Well, you sound like my mother talking about my life and my books. Thank you. I'm not entirely sure how to take that, but I'll take it. Well, mom's always say nice things regardless, so that's all. Okay, okay. Yeah, well, thank you for that very warm introduction. Oh, my absolute pleasure. Neil, is it true that Saturn is the only planet in our solar system with an average density, less than water? Yeah, but that doesn't do justice to some of the other big bulbous planets. So if you look at Jupiter, which is by far the most massive planet in the solar system. In fact, if you cobble together all the other planets, they will not equal the mass of Jupiter. Jupiter is big and bulbous the way Saturn is, and it has an average density just slightly more than water. And so Saturn is slightly less than water. So I don't want to single out Saturn as the guilty party here or the guilty if you're less dense than quarter. I don't know. I don't want to single out Saturn when all of the gas giants are big and bulbous and low density. They're like beach balls. But yes, Saturn happens to have a density less than water. Which means if you scoop out an average part of it, it'll float. And that's a kind of weird. So I don't know if you knew this, but as a child, I knew this fact as a child. Well, that's why I'm asking. And I'm asking you this question because it takes us all the way back to when you were asked the question. Crafty, right? Yeah, yeah. See what you did there. Question in 1973 and I'm wondering if you could share with our listeners when you were first asked that question. Well, I knew it before others had asked me. All right, I just thought it was an intriguing fact. Who doesn't love intriguing facts about everything? It's like saying, did you know that? And no matter what it is, if it begins with it, did you know? It's usually because someone sifted through random information and found something that was particularly interesting. I just remember, as a child, seeing people playing with rubber duckies in the bathtub and other little floating devices. Of course, ducks float. Like on purpose, that's how they can just hang out on the water's surface. And I thought to myself, if Saturn's average density is less than water, they should make rubber saturns. The people who are thinking not just birds floating, you know, and so it would not be until I was director of the Hayden planetarium, and I made this fact public about my early life. And somebody sent me a rubber Saturn. So in my office, I have a tiny little rubber taken it into a bathtub. But I trust that it's going to float. And I thought that was a very thoughtful gift. I think there needs to be a whole merchandising section in the Hayden planetarium of inflatable Saturn pool toys. I mean, why have you not done that yet? No, 'cause I'm not that, no. I'm not that exploitive of the universe, which put it that way. Fair enough. Commercially exploitive now. Your fascination with the stars began way before that question was asked of you. And from what I understand your fascination really was inspired by your first trip to the Hayden planetarium in New York City, you were 9 years old. And stated that visit made an indelible impression on you. And I had a somewhat similar experience at the same age when I visited my first planetarium. I was in Miami with family and we went to the planetarium and it's a palpable, visceral memory. I often think about, you've said that that's actually not unusual for many people, their first planetarium visits are remembered for a lifetime. Why do you think that is? Yeah, I don't, I wish I could say it was because the universe is so amazing, but no. Yes, that's true, but I don't think that's the reason. I think the reason after a lot of thinking about this, especially when we rebuilt the original Hayden planetarium into what is today, the rose center for earth and space, containing the new Hayden planetarium. What we learned as we visited many museums across the country and in fact around the world, in trying to plan and design the new facility. What we learned is that you are much more likely to remember and immersive experience. No matter what that immersive experience is. So, at the time, there was a prevailing scholarship among museum educators that exhibits had to be hands on. And that meant you'd walk up to an exhibit box, let's say. And they'd be buttons and levers and sounds, and then they test to see what you learned, what principle of science and science museums we're talking about, of course. What you learned in this, and I thought to myself, maybe they learned something, maybe they didn't, but how much time did they spend in front of it? You admit it? No one is spending a half hour in front of a museum exhibition box, especially kids. Then I thought, they spent years in school learning. And minutes in front of an exhibit. You can't expect the exhibit to teach them testable things? A curriculum? A syllabus? It occurred to me that the goal of a museum, given these facts, is to inspire you to want to learn more. Not to teach you in the moment, is to flick switches, that you might have that had never been turned on, or to fan the embers that had once been raging with curiosity and for whatever reason had gone dormant. That's what needs to happen. And an immersive exhibit, its value to you, its advantage over other exhibits, is you are consumed by it, typically all of your senses may be not smell, but maybe that too. You see it. You feel it. You hear it. You look all around you. You are consumed by it, and that's what happens in a planetarium. And I tested this. I tested this. Oh, by the way, and to be to be immersive means the exhibit is bigger than you are. It has to be otherwise you can't immerse yourself in it. So

Coming up next