Bill Nye: The Science (and Engineering!) Guy
Just as internet pioneer Vint Cerf is known for donning a three-piece suit, so too is this week’s guest known for their accoutrement of choice: a bow tie.
Whether you grew up in the US or not, chances are you’ve heard of Bill Nye. His titular show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, ran for five years in the mid-1990s, winning 19 of the 23 Emmys it was nominated for. Its combination of comedy and accessible educational content proved immensely popular, garnering an international audience while demonstrating that science can be for everyone. Not only did the show inspire a generation to study STEM, but its long-term success is now inspiring new generations as well.
Since the show’s conclusion in 1998, Nye has continued to promote science around the world – holding public lectures, hosting new shows, writing books, presenting podcasts, as well as doing the odd film and television cameo. So while many of us have grown up associating Nye with science, it might come as a shock to some to learn that he's also a mechanical engineer.
In this episode of Create the Future, we explore Nye’s exciting career as a scientist and engineer. We learn the origins of his iconic attire and his debut on television, discuss the impact of a career in engineering, and hear how he successfully campaigned to get sundials installed on both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers.
About the Guest
Nye began his career working as a mechanical engineer for Boeing Corporation. While there, he invented and patented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used in Boeing’s 747 aeroplanes. He then left the company in 1986 to peruse a career in comedy, where he found great success communicating the excitement of science to the world.
After the show finished, Nye has continued to advocate for science. He is the CEO of the Planetary Society, has written two bestselling science books, and hosted several subsequent science shows such as Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World.
- “Look around the room, or the car, or the park, or wherever it is you are right now. Everything you see in what we call the built environment came out of somebody's head. Everything. Somebody thought of that shape and size and colour and material, and those people are almost universally engineers. So I claim engineers are very creative, inherently.”
- “You'll find bow ties are very practical – they don't slide onto the serving tray, they don't slip into your soup, they don't flop into your flask in the laboratory – and so it just became a thing. That's just all I wear.”
- “We had to fill six minutes, which on television is a long time. And so they said ‘Oh, Bill, why don't you do that stuff you're always talking about? You could do some sort of science. You could be... Bill Nye the Science Guy!’ And so I said ‘That's a good idea!’ So the first week I did the household uses of liquid nitrogen.”
- “To me, engineering is using science to solve problems and make things. Engineers make things. That's what‘s really appealing to me.”
Photo by Ed Schipul. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.