Ella Gardner doesn’t aim low.
The 12-year-old Dripping Springs girl wants to be an astrophysicist. She hopes to be the first person to walk on Mars. She runs her own online newspaper and is a competitive rock climber.
So when Ella wanted to meet famed astrophysicist, author, media personality and Pluto killer Neil deGrasse Tyson, she made it happen.
“When I got the email, I was so excited,” she said. “My mom thought I was reading it wrong. I was freaking out.”
First, a bit about Ella.
The Dripping Springs Middle School student’s mother is a freelance writer. Her father is in real estate. Her three siblings are not obsessed with science.
Ella’s fascination with science started in kindergarten when she decided she wanted to read every book about space in the Brentwood Elementary School library. Today she has a fascination with planets and black holes.
She even has a favorite formula: E²= (pc)² + (mc²)² (for more information, please see google.com).
So in January 2012, Ella decided to reach out to her hero. She filled out an interview request form on the Internet, asking him to speak to her for the Magnolia Post, an online newspaper where she and her friends write about animals, science and, of course, National Grammar Day.
Even if you’ve never heard of Tyson, chances are you know his work. Tyson, director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, led the charge to demote Pluto to a dwarf planet. Ella doesn’t hold it against him.
It took more than a year for Ella and her family to wrangle the interview. After receiving an email confirmation in June 2012, Ella went months without word from the scientist. Then, last month, the two finally met on Skype.
“I think I was more nervous than she was,” said Ella’s mom, Heather O’Keeffe Gardner. “It’s Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. This is a guy that Jon Stewart interviews and now he’s going to be interviewed by my 12 year old.”
Ella tossed Tyson a few softballs at first, chatting about Austin, Pluto and Harry Potter. Then she started talking science. According to her online interview, one exchange went like this:
Ella: Do you think that string theory is a reasonable theory, especially the part with the parallel universes, which would mean that any fictional thing is truly nonfiction.
DeGrasse: (insert brainy talk here)
“He likes science a lot and he’s really excited,” Ella said. “He’s really happy. It seems like he really likes to explain science stuff.”
So does she. And her passion for science — especially space — isn’t going anywhere.
“I just like how big it is and how anything can happen in it,” she said. “You never know. There could be aliens. There probably are.”