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Bill Nye the Science Guy

Mar 25, 2017, 1:15 p.m.
Bill Nye was born in Washington DC, but the Science Guy got his start in Seattle

The Seattle Times described The Science Guy’s inception this way: “In 1987, Nye conducted an experiment on Almost Live! that would hint at the Science Guy's awesome TV potential. Donning lab coat and safety glasses from his personal collection, he dunked an onion in liquid nitrogen and shattered it. The studio audience went nuclear. ‘It hit me so hard,’ Nye recalls. ‘Here was everything I wanted to do, with science and being funny, all at once.’ He won a local Emmy for the bit and, that same year, trademarked the Bill Nye the Science Guy name and printed up stationery and business cards that read comedian - actor - writer – engineer.

Bill realized that The Science Guy had potential, and consulted his former astronomy professor, Carl Sagan, about it. “Sagan influenced me a great deal. Then at my 10th reunion, I met with him…I said I wanted to do a show about science for kids. He said, ‘Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science.’ ” And if you want to entertain a kid, adds Bill, “you make it funny.”

Bill started developing the Bill Nye The Science Guy show with Seattle’s PBS television station, KCTS 9. The hit show was distributed by the Disney Company. Over the course of its five year run from 1993 to 1998, the show won 19 Emmy awards; Bill, himself, won seven.

The New York Times called Bill Nye “The Bruce Springsteen of the Nerds.” He does come across a bit like a rock star on the college lecture circuit. “People in college grew up watching Bill Nye The Science Guy. They recite lines from the show…it’s really extraordinary,” he exclaims. Wherever he goes, he gets stopped for autographs, selfies, hugs and high-fives.

It’s the unique combination of science education, entertainment and comedy that sets Bill Nye apart. He comes by the comedy naturally, he says. “My family is funny,” he confides, “not just funny looking.”

His family is more than funny; they’re smart. “My grandfather was an organic chemist,” says Bill. As a kid, his father dubbed himself “Ned Nye, Boy Scientist,” although he made his living as a salesman. His father was also a lifelong sundial enthusiast, an interest he developed while in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Bill’s mother played a role in WWII, too, as a code breaker. “My mom and her buddies worked on the Enigma code,” says Bill, something she had to keep secret for 50 years. His niece and nephew both have PhDs in chemical engineering.

Bill holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from six universities. He has lectured at his alma mater Cornell, where, as a tribute to his parents’ strong belief in the value of education, he designed and funded a 12-foot diameter clock to be installed in their honor. And, inspired by his father, he designed the MarsDials, three sundials mounted on the robotic rovers exploring Mars. So Bill made it to space, in a sense, even though he was rejected four times by NASA for the astronaut program.

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