November 27 – Happy Birthday, Bill Nye (the Science Guy)

Posted on November 27, 2013

A lot of “science guys” aren't famous. Perhaps especially the mechanical engineers who apply every few years to NASA to become astronauts, but are rejected each and every time!

But Bill Nye crafted an entertainer / educator role for himself, somehow, and has become one of the most famous science educators around.

Perhaps he was inspired by one of his college professors, who also became a science educator and media darling, Carl Sagan. Perhaps he realized that he liked being in front of a camera when he worked at Boeing starring in training films. Perhaps it was because a television show host teased him and created that famous rhyming name, Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Why would a TV show host tease a mechanical engineer? Well, the host of Almost Live! mispronounced a word, gigawatt, pronouncing it jigawatt. Bill Nye called in to correct the mistake. And the host asked him, “Who do you think you are—Bill Nye the Science Guy?”

Perhaps the host didn't like being corrected. Or perhaps the host was a genius who knew how to use a call-in to recruit a new actor for the sketch comedy show.

Because Nye became “the Science Guy” on the show. From there he earned a nonspeaking role as an assistant and demonstrator on Back to the Future: The Animated Series, and eventually his own show—called, of course, Bill Nye the Science Guy. That show lured a wider audience than expected, including adults, and became popular as a teaching aid in schools. And Nye wasn't just the eager science buff on-camera—he wrote for the show and became a producer as well. Nye's Science Guy persona became popular enough to be the subject of parody, and Nye joked right back.
Nye is sometimes called
"a firebrand for science."

Becoming a cultural icon

Even though Nye's show ended after 100 episodes, in 1998, Nye continued to act and teach science and act some more. From acting in movies to being the voice-over in features at Walt Disney World, from hosting TV specials to guest starring in shows such as Numb3rs and The Big Bang Theory, from being one of the “stars” on Dancing with the Stars to being an on-camera expert on television news programs, Nye has continued to help people understand science, help people laugh, or both at once!

Bill Nye is very involved with two organizations I like to promote. He is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and he is the Executive Director of The Planetary Society.

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