Bill Nye

science guy

bill nye by jenni dickens

Bill Nye (b. 1955) is an American science educator, comedian, television host, actor, writer, and scientist who began his career as a mechanical engineer at Boeing. He is best known as the host of the Disney/PBS children’s science show ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy’ and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.

Nye was born in Washington, D.C., to Jacqueline Nye, a codebreaker during World War II, and Edwin Darby Nye, also a World War II veteran, whose experience in a Japanese prisoner of war camp led him to become a sundial enthusiast. Bill is a former fourth-generation Washington resident through his father’s side of the family. He studied mechanical engineering at Cornell University (where one of his professors was Carl Sagan). He began his career in Seattle at Boeing, where, among other things, he starred in training films and developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor still used in the 747. Later, he worked as a consultant in the aeronautics industry. In 1999 he told the St. Petersburg Times that he applied to be a NASA astronaut every few years, but was always rejected.

Nye began his professional entertainment career as an actor on a local sketch comedy television show in Seattle, called ‘Almost Live!’; he attempted to correct the show host’s pronunciation of ‘gigawatt’ as ‘jigowatt.’ The host responded, ‘Who do you think you are—Bill Nye the Science Guy?’ and Nye was thereafter known as such on the program. His other main recurring role was as ‘Speedwalker,’ a speedwalking Seattle superhero. From 1991 to 1993, he appeared in the live-action educational segments of ‘Back to the Future: The Animated Series’ in the nonspeaking role of assistant to Dr. Emmett Brown (played by Christopher Lloyd), in which he would demonstrate science while Lloyd explained. The segments’ national popularity led to Nye hosting an educational television program, ‘Bill Nye the Science Guy,’ from 1993 to 1998. Each of the 100 episodes aimed to teach a specific topic in science to a preteen audience, yet it garnered wide adult viewership as well. With its comedic overtones, the show became popular as a teaching aid in schools. Nye has written several books as The Science Guy. In addition to hosting, he was a writer and producer for the show, which was filmed entirely in Seattle.

When portraying ‘The Science Guy,’ Nye wears a light blue lab coat and bow tie, and takes on the persona of an excited, jocular science educator. This popular image of Nye has been parodied by numerous sources, including the webcomic ‘xkcd’ and the satirical news organization ‘The Onion.’ In response to the fake headline ‘Crack Nearly Killed Me,’ Nye took the joke in good humor and sent ‘The Onion’ an email thanking them for ‘dealing compassionately with this matter.’ Nye’s Science Guy persona appears alongside Ellen DeGeneres and Alex Trebek in a video at ‘Ellen’s Energy Adventure,’ an attraction that has played since 1996 at the ‘Universe of Energy’ pavilion inside Epcot at Walt Disney World. His voice is heard in the ‘DINOSAUR’ attraction in Disney’s Animal Kingdom park, teaching guests about the dinosaurs while they queue for the ride. He appears in video form in the ‘Design Lab’ of ‘CyberSpace Mountain,’ inside DisneyQuest at Walt Disney World, where he refers to himself as ‘Bill Nye the Coaster Guy.’

Nye has remained interested in science education through entertainment. He played a science teacher in Disney’s 1998 TV movie ‘The Principal Takes a Holiday’; he made a hovercraft to demonstrate science in an unusual classroom manner. From 2000 to 2002, Nye was the technical expert in ‘BattleBots,’ a robot fighting show on Comedy Central. 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. He was also host of an eight-part Discovery Channel series called ‘Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye.’ He created a 13-episode PBS KCTS-TV series about science, called ‘The Eyes of Nye,’ aimed at an older audience than his previous shows. Airing in 2005, it often featured episodes based on politically relevant themes such as genetically modified food, global warming, and race. Nye has guest-starred in several episodes of the crime drama ‘Numb3rs’ as an engineering faculty member. A lecture Nye gave several years ago on exciting children about math was an inspiration for creating ‘Numb3rs.’ He has also made guest appearances on the VH1 reality show ‘America’s Most Smartest Model.’

Nye has appeared numerous times on the talk show ‘Larry King Live,’ speaking about topics such as global warming and UFOs. He argued that global warming is an issue that should be addressed by governments of the world in part because it could be implicated in the record-setting 2005 Atlantic hurricane season. On UFOs, he has been skeptical of extraterrestrial explanations for sightings such as those at Roswell and Malmstrom Air Force Base in 1967. Nye appears in segments of ‘The Climate Code’ on The Weather Channel, telling his personal ways of saving energy. He still makes regular appearances on the show, often asking quiz questions. As of 2008, Nye also appears on the daytime game show ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ as part of the show’s reintroduced ‘Ask the Expert’ lifeline. In 2008, he also hosted ‘Stuff Happens,’ a show on the then new Planet Green network. Also that year, 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.

In 2009, portions of Bill Nye’s shows were used as lyrics and portions of the second ‘Symphony of Science’ music education video by composer John Boswell. 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 later that year. Bill also joined the American Optometric Association in a multimedia advertising campaign to persuade parents to get their children comprehensive eye examinations. Nye made an appearance in Palmdale’s 2010 video ‘Here Comes the Summer’; the band’s lead singer Kay Hanley is his neighbor. Nye (as his TV persona) also made a guest appearance on ‘The Dr. Oz Show.’

In the early 2000s, Nye assisted in the development of a small sundial that was included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions. Known as MarsDial, it included small colored panels to provide a basis for color calibration in addition to helping keep track of time. 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. He became the organization’s second Executive Director in 2010 when Louis Friedman stepped down. In November 2010, Nye became the face of a new permanent exhibition at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. ‘Bill Nye’s Climate Lab’ features Nye as commander of the Clean Energy Space Station, and invites visitors on an urgent mission to thwart climate change. Beginning with a view of Planet Earth from space, visitors explore air, water, and land galleries to discover how climate change affects Earth’s connected systems, and how to use the Sun, wind, land, and water to generate clean energy. In an interview about the exhibit, Nye said, ‘Everything in the exhibit is geared to showing you that the size of the problem of climate change is big. Showing you a lot about energy use … It’s a huge opportunity … We need young people, entrepreneurs, young inventors, young innovators to change the world.’ A solar noon clock atop Rhodes Hall was gifted from Nye to Cornell in 2011  following a public lecture that filled the 715-seat Statler Auditorium. 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.

Nye holds several United States patents, including one for ballet pointe shoes and another for an educational magnifying glass created by filling a clear plastic bag with water. From 2001 to 2006, Nye served as Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor at Cornell University. Nye supported the 2006 reclassification of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet by the International Astronomical Union. 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. Interviewed by John Rael for the ‘Independent Investigation Group,’ Nye stated that his ‘concern right now… scientific illiteracy… you [the public] don’t have enough rudimentary knowledge of the universe to evaluate claims.’ In 2012, Nye launched a Kickstarter project for an educational Aerodynamics game, ‘AERO 3D’ for iOS.

Since 2006, Nye has lived in Los Angeles in a house with modifications, though he has also owned a house on Mercer Island in Seattle. As of 2007, Nye and environmental activist Ed Begley, Jr. are engaging in a friendly competition ‘to see who could have the lowest carbon footprint,’ according to Begley. In a 2008 interview, Nye joked that he wants to ‘crush Ed Begley’ in their environmental competition. Nye and Begley are neighbors in Los Angeles, and sometimes dine together at a local vegetarian restaurant. Nye often appears on Begley’s Planet Green reality show ‘Living with Ed.’ Nye enjoys baseball and occasionally does experiments involving the physics of the game. As a longtime Seattle resident before becoming an entertainer, he is said to have been a fan of the Seattle Mariners, although recently he has voiced his preference (as a D.C. native) for the Washington Nationals.

In 2006, Nye announced his engagement during an appearance on ‘The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson’ and was married to his fiancée of five months, oboist and journalist Blair Tindall. The ceremony was performed by Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren at ‘The Entertainment Gathering’ (a conference created by Richard Saul Wurman, who also started TED). Yo-Yo Ma provided the music. Nye left the relationship seven weeks later and the marriage license was declared invalid. He filed a restraining order against Tindall after she entered their property to pour weed killer in his garden. Tindall admitted to emptying two bottles of weed killer in the garden and called the incident, ‘a foolish, sophomoric act of poor judgment that was only intended to harm flowers, and certainly not people.’ She stated that she went to Nye’s garden after watching an episode of ‘Living With Ed’ in which, ‘Bill commented that life would be perfect … if only he had a woman with whom to share the house — a house I’d found, fixed up, and assumed I’d enjoy married life and motherhood as ‘Mrs. Nye’ within.’ Nye was granted a court order which required her to stay 100 yards away from him. Tindall violated the order in 2009 and Nye took her back to court to enforce it. The court ordered her to cover $57,000 in Nye’s legal expenses.

4 Responses to “Bill Nye”

  1. Just wanted to add a note: I didn’t include the passage describing some outdated info Bill gave about nuclear power on CNN during the Fukushima crisis. It was really the only time he got something wrong, and I figured he’s entitled to one freebie.

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