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Bill Nye

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Bill Nye
A close-up shot of Bill Nye's face, wearing one of his trademark bowties.
Nye in May 2017
Born William Sanford Nye
(1955-11-27) November 27, 1955 (age 62)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Residence Los Angeles, U.S.; New York City, U.S.
Nationality American
Alma mater Cornell University (BS, 1977)
Known for Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998)
Bill Nye: Science Guy (2017)[1]
Bill Nye Saves the World (2017–present)
Scientific career
Fields Mechanical engineering
Institutions Boeing[2]
Cornell University
The Planetary Society
Bill Nye signature.svg

William Sanford Nye[3] (born November 27, 1955), popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science communicator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer. He is best known as the host of the PBS children's science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998), the Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World (2017–present), and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.

Nye began his career as a mechanical engineer for Boeing Corporation in Seattle, where he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on 747 airplanes. In 1986, Nye left Boeing to pursue comedy, writing and performing jokes and bits for the local sketch television show Almost Live!, where he would regularly conduct wacky science experiments. Nye aspired to become the next Mr. Wizard and with the help of several producers successfully pitched the children's television program Bill Nye the Science Guy to KCTS-TV, channel 9, Seattle's public television station. The show—which proudly proclaimed in its theme song that "science rules!"—ran from 1994 to 1999 in national TV syndication. Known for its "high-energy presentation and MTV-paced segments,"[4] the program became a hit for both kids and adults. The show was critically acclaimed and was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards, winning nineteen.

Following the success of his show, Nye continued to advocate for science, becoming the CEO of the Planetary Society and helping develop sundials for the Mars Exploration Rover missions.[5] Nye has written two best-selling books on science, including Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation in 2014 and Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World in 2015. Nye has made frequent media appearances, including on Dancing with the Stars, The Big Bang Theory and Inside Amy Schumer.[6] Nye starred in a documentary about his life and science advocacy titled Bill Nye: Science Guy, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2017, and, in October 2017, was chosen a NYT Critic's Pick.[1] In 2017, he debuted a Netflix series, entitled Bill Nye Saves the World.

Early life

Nye was born on November 27, 1955,[7][8] in Washington, D.C., to Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye (née Jenkins; 1921–2000), who was a codebreaker during World War II, and Edwin Darby "Ned" Nye (1917–1997), who also served in World War II and worked as a contractor building an airstrip on Wake Island.[9] Ned was captured and spent four years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp; living without electricity or watches, he learned how to tell time using the shadow of a shovel handle, spurring his passion for sundials.[9][10][11][12] Jenkins-Nye was among a small elite group of young women known as "Goucher girls" whom the Navy had enlisted to help crack the codes that were used by the Japanese and German military. "She wasn't Rosie the Riveter, she was Rosie the Top-Secret Code Breaker," Nye recalls. "People would ask her what she did during World War II and she'd say, 'I can't talk about it, ha ha ha!'"[13]

Nye attended Lafayette Elementary School and Alice Deal Junior High before attending Sidwell Friends for high school on a scholarship in 1973.[14][15] Nye moved to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University and study at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His enthusiasm for science was deepened after taking an astronomy class with Carl Sagan.[16] He graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering in 1977.[17]

Early career in Seattle

1977–1986: Job at Boeing

After graduating from Cornell, Nye worked as an engineer for the Boeing Corporation and Sundstrand Data Control near Seattle. While at Boeing, he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on Boeing 747 airplanes.[18] Nye applied four times for NASA's astronaut training program, but was always rejected.[19]

Nye started doing standup comedy after winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest in 1978.[20] Nye's friends began asking him to do Steve Martin impressions at parties and he discovered how much he loved to make people laugh. Nye began moonlighting as a comedian, while still holding his day job as a mechanical engineer at Boeing.[21] Nye has stated of that time: "At this point in our story, I was working on business jet navigation systems, laser gyroscope systems during the day, and I'd take a nap and go do stand-up comedy by night".[21]

He also participated in Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and would volunteer at the Pacific Science Center on weekends, as a "Science Explainer".[20]

1986–1991: Comedy beginnings and Almost Live!

Nye quit his job at Boeing on October 3, 1986 to focus on his burgeoning comedy career.[21]

During Nye's 10 year college reunion in 1987, he went through great lengths to meet with Sagan at Cornell. His assistant told Nye, "Okay, you can talk to him for five minutes." While meeting him at the space sciences building, Nye explained that he was interested in developing a science television program. "I mentioned how I planned to talk about bridges and bicycles and so on—stuff that, as an engineer, I'd been interested in—and he said, 'Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science rather than technology.' And that turned out to be great advice."[22]

In 1986, Nye worked as a writer/actor on a local sketch comedy television show in Seattle, called Almost Live!. Nye first got his big break on the show from John Keister who met him during an open mic night.[23] After a guest canceled, co-host Ross Shafer mentioned to Nye that he had seven minutes of programming to fill. "Why don’t you do that science stuff?" Shafer suggested.[24] On the show, Nye entertained audiences with comical demonstrations like what happens when you eat a marshmallow that's been dunked in liquid nitrogen.[25] His other main recurring role on Almost Live! was as Speed Walker, a speedwalking Seattle superhero "who fights crime while maintaining strict adherence to the regulations of the international speed-walking association."[20]

One famous incident on the show led to his stage name. He corrected Keister on his pronunciation of the word "gigawatt", and the nickname was born when Keister responded, "Who do you think you are—Bill Nye the Science Guy?"[26] Nye's science experiments strongly resonated with viewers and the local chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences awarded Nye a talent Emmy for one of his segments.[27]

Even though Nye had become a regular on Almost Live!, he was only doing freelance work for the program.[28] While looking for more TV gigs, Nye was given the opportunity in 1989 to host a short educational program on Washington State's wetlands called Fabulous Wetlands, sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology.[28] On Fabulous Wetlands, Nye explained the importance of preserving estuaries and the hazards of pollution.[29] The show became, in many ways, a model for Nye's later show, with "zany camera cuts paired with Nye's humor" that set it apart from the typical scientific broadcast.[28] Nye soon began getting more offers to make appearances on nationally broadcast programs, including taping eight segments for the Disney Channel's All-New Mickey Mouse Club.[27]

Following his stint on Almost Live!, from 1991 to 1993, he appeared on live-action educational segments of Back to the Future: The Animated Series, assisting Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd).[30]

Bill Nye the Science Guy

Bill Nye the Science Guy, wearing his trademark blue lab coat and bowtie.

In 1993, he developed a Bill Nye the Science Guy pilot for public broadcasting station KCTS-TV in Seattle. Nye collaborated with James McKenna, Erren Gottlieb and Elizabeth Brock to plan and create the show for KCTS.[31] The group pitched the show as Mr. Wizard meets Pee-wee's Playhouse.[22] He successfully obtained underwriting from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy. Nye's program became part of a package of syndicated series that local stations could schedule to fulfill Children's Television Act requirements.[32] Because of this, Bill Nye the Science Guy became the first program to run concurrently on public and commercial stations.[32]

Bill Nye the Science Guy ran from 1993 to 1998, becoming one of the most-watched educational TV shows in the United States.[33] While portraying "The Science Guy", Nye wore a powder blue lab coat and a bow tie. Nye Labs, the production offices and set where the show was shot, was located in a converted clothing warehouse near Seattle's Kingdome.[33] Each episode of the program strived to educate younger viewers on various science concepts, yet it also attracted a significant adult audience as well.[34] The show's ability to make science entertaining and accessible made it a popular teaching tool in classrooms across the country. With its quirky humor and rapid-fire MTV-style pacing, the show won critical acclaim and was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards, winning nineteen. Subsequent research studies found the program to be effective in teaching students science: those that viewed Bill Nye regularly were better able to generate explanations and extensions of scientific ideas than non-viewers.[35]

In addition to the TV show, Nye published several books as The Science Guy. A CD-ROM based on the series, titled Bill Nye the Science Guy: Stop the Rock!, was released in 1996 for Windows and Macintosh by Pacific Interactive. [36][33]

Nye's Science Guy personality is also prominent at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, most notably his appearance with Ellen DeGeneres at Ellen's Energy Adventure, an attraction which ran from 1996 to 2017 at the Universe of Energy pavilion located inside Epcot at Walt Disney World. His Science Guy persona was also the on-air spokesman for the Noggin television network during 1999.[37]

Post–Science Guy Work

Nye at the March for Science in Washington, D.C. on April 22, 2017.

The Eyes of Nye

Following the success of Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye began work on a comeback project, entitled The Eyes of Nye, aimed at an older audience and tackling more controversial science subject matter such as genetically modified food, global warming, and race. However "shifting creative concepts, infighting among executives and disputes over money with Seattle producing station KCTS," significantly delayed production for years.[38] KCTS was hampered by budgetary problems and wasn't able to produce an Eyes of Nye pilot on time.[38] "KCTS went through some distress," Nye recalled. "When we did The Eyes of Nye, the budget started out really big, and by the time we served all these little problems at KCTS, we had a much lower budget for the show than we’d ever had for the ‘Science Guy’ show which was made several years earlier."[23] PBS declined to distribute Eyes of Nye, though the show was eventually picked up by American Public Television. "PBS wanted more serious, in-depth Nova-style shows," explained co-producer Randy Brinson.[39] The show, which eventually premiered in 2005, lasted for only one season and Nye acknowledged ditching his bow-tie on the program was a mistake. "I tried wearing a straight tie. It was nothing," Nye said. "We were trying something new. It wasn’t me."[23]

Other media appearances

From 2000 to 2002, Nye was the technical expert on BattleBots.[40] In 2004 and 2005, Nye hosted 100 Greatest Discoveries, an award-winning series produced by THINKFilm for The Science Channel and in high definition on the Discovery HD Theater.[41] He was also host of an eight-part Discovery Channel series called Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye. Nye guest-starred in several episodes of the crime drama Numb3rs as an engineering faculty member. A lecture Nye gave on exciting children about math was an inspiration for the creation of the show.[42] He also made guest appearances on the VH1 reality show America's Most Smartest Model.

Nye appeared on segments of Heidi Cullen's The Climate Code, later renamed Forecast Earth on The Weather Channel, relating his personal ways of saving energy.[43] In the fall of 2008, Nye also appeared periodically on the daytime game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as part of the show's reintroduced "Ask the Expert" lifeline. [44]

In 2008, he also hosted Stuff Happens, a short-lived show on the Planet Green network.[45] In November 2008, Nye appeared in an acting role as himself in the fifth-season episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis alongside fellow television personality and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.[46]

Nye recorded a short YouTube video (as himself, not his TV persona) advocating clean-energy climate-change legislation on behalf of Al Gore's Repower America campaign in October 2009.[47] Nye joined the American Optometric Association in a multimedia advertising campaign to persuade parents to get their children comprehensive eye examinations.[48]

In 2013, Bill Nye guest starred in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Proton Displacement."[49] Sheldon Cooper befriends him and brings him in to teach Leonard Cooper a "lesson" after Professor Proton (portrayed by Bob Newhart) helps Leonard out with an experiment instead of him. There was a claim by Professor Proton that Bill Nye made his TV series similar to his show. After he and Sheldon leave, Leonard receives a selfie picture of the two of them having smoothies and later gets a text from Sheldon asking for a ride home stating Bill Nye ditched him at the smoothie store. In a later discussion with Professor Photon, Sheldon stated that Bill Nye gave him a restraining order not to come within 500 ft of his house and can't help him make contact with Bill Nye.[50]

On February 28, 2014, Nye was a celebrity guest and interviewer at the White House Student Film Festival.[51]

On August 31, 2016, Netflix announced that Nye would appear in a new series titled Bill Nye Saves the World, which premiered on April 21, 2017.[52][53] Nye was honorary co-chair of the inaugural March for Science on April 22, 2017.[54]

He was the subject of a 2017 biographical documentary film, entitled Bill Nye: Science Guy, directed by David Alvarado and Jason Sussberg.[1]

Science advocacy

Nye orating in October 2010

In the early 2000s, Nye assisted in the development of a small sundial that was included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions.[7] Known as MarsDial, it included small colored panels to provide a basis for color calibration in addition to helping keep track of time.[55] From 2005 to 2010, Nye was the vice president of the Planetary Society, an organization that advocates space science research and the exploration of other planets, particularly Mars.[56] He became the organization's second Executive Director in September 2010 when Louis Friedman stepped down.[57][58]

The Bill Nye Climate Lab at the Chabot Space & Science Center in 2013.

In November 2010, Nye became the face of a major science exhibition at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California.[59] Bill Nye's Climate Lab featured Nye as commander of the Clean Energy Space Station and invited visitors on an urgent mission to thwart climate change.[60]

Nye with the Chief of Naval Research Rear. Adm. Nevin Carr following the presentation of a "Powered by Naval Research" pocket protector during the Navy Office of General Counsel Spring 2011 Conference.

Nye gave a solar noon clock atop Rhodes Hall to Cornell on August 27, 2011, following a public lecture that filled the 715-seat Statler Auditorium.[61] Nye talked about his father's passion for sundials and timekeeping, his time at Cornell, his work on the sundials mounted on the Mars rovers and the story behind the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock.[5] Nye conducted a Q&A session after the 2012 Mars Rover Landing.[62]

Nye speaking to a group about Mars in June 2016

Nye holds several United States patents,[63] including one for ballet pointe shoes[56][64] and another for an educational magnifying glass created by filling a clear plastic bag with water.[65][66] From 2001 to 2006, Nye served as Frank H. T. Rhodes Class of '56 University Professor at Cornell University.[17][67]

Nye is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a U.S. non-profit scientific and educational organization whose aim is to promote scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims.[68] Interviewed by John Rael for the Independent Investigation Group IIG, Nye stated that his "concern right now ... scientific illiteracy ... you [the public] don't have enough rudimentary knowledge of the universe to evaluate claims."[69] In November 2012, Nye launched a Kickstarter project for an educational Aerodynamics game called AERO 3D but it was not funded.[70]

In September 2012, Nye claimed that creationist views threaten science education and innovation in the United States.[71][72][73] In February 2014, Nye debated creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum on the topic of whether creation is a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era.[74][75][76] In July 2016, Ham gave Nye a tour of the Ark Encounter the day after it first opened to the public.[77][78] He and Ham had an informal debate while touring the structure,[79] and footage from Nye's visit was subsequently included in the documentary film Bill Nye: Science Guy, which was released in 2017.[80]

On Earth Day 2015, Nye met with U.S. President Obama to visit the Everglades National Park in Florida and discuss climate change as well as science education.[81][82][83]

In March 2015, Nye announced he changed his mind and now supports GMOs.[84] In a new edition of Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, Nye rewrote a chapter on GMOs reflecting his new position.[85] In a radio interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, Nye stated "there's no difference between allergies among GMO eaters and non-GMO eaters...I've changed my mind about genetically modified organisms".[86]

In an interview with Marc Morano, Nye was asked about the prospect of jailing or punishing climate change deniers. He indicated he was open to the idea, saying, "We'll see what happens". Nye then compared the issue to instances in which people were punished for misleading the public, asking, "Was it appropriate to jail the guys from Enron?... Was it appropriate to jail people from the cigarette industry who insisted that this addictive product was not addictive, and so on?"[87] In July 2017, Nye observed that the majority of climate change deniers are older people, and stated, "so we're just going to have to wait for those people to 'age out', as they say".[88]

Nye has written three books, including Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, [89] Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World, and Everything All at Once: How to Unleash Your Inner Nerd, Tap into Radical Curiosity and Solve Any Problem.

Dancing with the Stars

Nye was a contestant in the season 17 of Dancing with the Stars in 2013, partnered with new professional dancer Tyne Stecklein. They were eliminated early in the season after Nye sustained an injury to his quadriceps tendon on Week 3.[90]

Dance Score Music Result
Cha-cha-cha 14 (5-4-5) "Weird Science"—Oingo Boingo No Elimination
Paso Doble 17 (6-5-6) Symphony No. 5Ludwig van Beethoven Safe
Jazz 16 (6-5-5) "Get Lucky"—Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams Eliminated

Personal life

Nye with Barack Obama and Neil deGrasse Tyson taking a selfie in 2014.

Nye has several residences, living both in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles and New York City.[91] In addition, he owns a house on Mercer Island near Seattle.[92]

Nye has solar photovoltaic panels on his California house and his electricity meter often runs in reverse, which he has shown off to visitors.[93]

Nye and his neighbor, environmental activist/actor Ed Begley, Jr., have engaged in a friendly competition "to see who could have the lowest carbon footprint", according to Begley.[94] Nye often appeared on Begley's HGTV/Planet Green reality show Living with Ed.[95]

In July 2012, Nye supported President Barack Obama's reelection bid.[96] Nye frequently consulted with Obama on science matters during his presidency, and famously took a selfie with him and Neil deGrasse Tyson at the White House.[97] Nye attended the 2018 State of the Union Address after being invited by Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine. Nye's attendance drew scrutiny due to Bridestine's "history of expressing climate change skepticism," but Nye defended the move. "While the Congressman and I disagree on a great many issues -- we share a deep respect for NASA and its achievements and a strong interest in the future of space exploration. My attendance tomorrow should not be interpreted as an endorsement of this administration, or of Congressman Bridenstine's nomination, or seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community," Nye said.[98]

Nye married musician Blair Tindall, on February 3, 2006, however, he annulled the relationship seven weeks later when the marriage license was declared invalid.[99] In 2007, Nye obtained a protective order against Tindall after she broke into his house, stole several items, including his laptop which she used to send defamatory emails impersonating him and damaged his garden with herbicide. Tindall acknowledged killing his plants but denied being a threat to him.[100] Subsequently, Nye sued Tindall for $57,000 in attorney's fees after she allegedly violated the protective order.[101]

Awards and honors

In May 1999, Nye was the commencement speaker at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree.[102] He was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins University in May 2008. [103]In May 2011, Nye received an honorary doctor of science degree from Willamette University[104] In May 2015, Rutgers University awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree and paid him a $35,000 speaker's fee for his participation as the keynote speaker at the ceremony.[105] In addition, Nye also received an honorary doctor of pedagogy degree from Lehigh University on May 20, 2013, at the commencement ceremony.[106] Nye received the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award from the American Humanist Association.[107] In October 2015, Nye was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from Simon Fraser University.[108] In 2011, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) presented Nye their highest award In Praise of Reason, Eugenie Scott stated: "If you think Bill is popular among skeptics, you should attend a science teacher conference where he is speaking" it is standing room only. She continues by saying that no one has more fun than Nye when he is "demonstrating, principles of science."[109] In 1997, CSICOP also presented Nye with the Candle in the Dark Award for his "lively, creative... endeavor".[110]

Works (selected)

See also


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