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Neil deGrasse Tyson: The Discerning Doodler

The astrophysicist and TV star shares the feel of a fancy pen

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Personal Best

Patrick James Miller

Neil deGrasse Tyson on the joys of doodling

Growing up in the Bronx, I'd doodle when I got bored in class. But whereas the other kids were filling their notebooks with dragons and planes, I was polishing my calligraphy. I had noticed that the New York Times banner shared letters with my own name—the "N" in "Neil," the "T" in "Tyson"—so I would laboriously copy out that Gothic lettering and practice my penmanship.

Neil DeGrasse Tyson: Personal Best, pen collection

Patrick James Miller

Neil DeGrasse Tyson's pen collection

I quickly discovered, however, how hard it is to form Gothic letters with the cheap plastic ballpoint pens we had to work with back then. It felt freeing when I started to experiment with inexpensive calligraphic pens. With them, I could add a little flourish to a word if I decided the tone of the statement deserved it.

When I started studying astro-physics in graduate school in 1988,I received my first fountain pen, a Mont Blanc, as a gift. That was the first time I could combine calligraphic lines with something I felt proud to display in my pocket, and I still use that pen for book signings today.

These days I like to write by candlelight. When I dip one of my quill pens into an inkwell, I feel like I'm communing through time, sharingthe thoughts of others who came before me—medieval monks, maybe. As I sit and write in the relative dark, in the same manner in which they wrote, I gain a better understanding of what it meant to solve the problems of their day.

—As told to Michele Shapiro

Neil deGrasse Tyson, 57, hosts the National Geographic Channel show "StarTalk."