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I Have a Crush on the Science Teacher

Everyone was in love with Mr. Martinson, seventh grade science teacher. He was young and handsome in a California surfer way. Tall, long-limbed and long hair, with what appeared to be sun-streaked blond highlights. The girls wanted to marry him; the boys wanted to be him. If there were boys who wanted to marry him, we were unaware of this possibility, as it was the late 1970’s in suburbia. We were not terribly self-aware, just entering adolescence and naïve about how our own feelings affected our desire to excel in science. At that age in that era, it was socially acceptable to have a crush on your teacher.

A decade later, I would fall in love with another scientist. Despite my romantic history, this came as a complete surprise. In my early 20’s, I was still unaware that I found nerdy to be sexy.  It is fair to say that he was also surprised to find a Humanities Girl—I was studying to be a rabbi—so besotted with a Science Guy. In his dating experience, the phrase “I am finishing my PhD in Chemistry” was a conversation stopper.

Now I’ve fallen for a new science teacher: Neil deGrasse Tyson.  I was referring to him as my celebrity crush for a while, until a colleague taught me the proper terminology is “intellectual crush.” It’s true that I’m primarily enthralled by his mind, as I first encountered him on a Radiolab podcast and had no idea if his looks matched “my type.” I’ve been a devoted fan for several years, catching his regular appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and following him on Twitter.

When I confessed my crush to my scientist spouse he chuckled good-naturedly.  In fact, he has been pretty indulgent—not really troubled by the competition, I guess.  On Monday, he even left the newspaper on the kitchen table opened to this article, not realizing that, after reading it, I’d spend the rest of the morning letting go of my envy of Clyde Haberman.

What do I love about Tyson? He’s smart, articulate and funny, and can discuss both Physics and Metaphysics—the nature of the universe and human nature—with ease.  But what I most admire is how he explains science in terms that make sense to the general public and makes a compelling argument for improving scientific literacy.

As children we are naturally curious about the physical world—how it operates and how we fit into it. But our scientific intellect is quashed at some point between adolescence and adulthood, when many of us become complacent about our acquired knowledge or, worse, disenchanted with science.  When people ask my spouse what he does for a living, he is often told, “I hated Chemistry in high school” or “That’s so interesting,” before they abruptly change the topic of conversation.

I think the reason I’m so enchanted with Tyson is that he has made it his mission to counteract this trend.  And I appreciate that my spouse and I can share this particular crush.

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Here’s a favorite Radiolab short featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson.

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