The Science Guy: Entertainer, scientist encourages inventive, green ideas
April 1, 2011
Did you know?
Bill Nye the Science Guy has nearly three hundred bowties.
Many childhood dreams came true last night as scientist and educational television star Bill Nye took the stage at Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall. Demonstrated by their standing ovation at the sold out show, students at the College of William and Mary clearly believe that science rules.
In a presentation meandering from the landscape of Venus to corn fungus, Nye displayed the same breathless enthusiasm and mental elasticity that endeared him to millions of children during the five year run of his PBS television series. The brainy entertainer arrived on campus with a message, encouraging students to support and undertake science-based global reform.
“I’m just a speck on a speck orbiting a speck in the middle of speckle-ness,” Nye said. “But with your brain you can imagine all of this, you can understand nature, you can know your place in space. With our brain, you can, dare I say it, change the world!”
“Bill Nye the Science Guy” aired from 1993 to 1998, during current College students’ early elementary school years. The television show featured experiments, music videos and jokes designed to engage children’s interest in science and technology. Nye’s manic energy and humor also appealed to his young audience members and helped distinguish the show from other educational programs.
“I think [Nye’s presentation was] fun, as it harkened back to our childhood,” Rey Perez ’13 said. “Everyone had that elementary or middle school teacher who put the Bill Nye video in, and it was the best day of class.”
Nye’s fans at the College are all grown up now, and the scientist’s show had a more mature tone than that of his episodes. The program had the academic air of an environmental science lecture, but was buoyed by the liveliness of Nye’s personality.
The Science Guy took advantage of his audience’s adoring attention by opening with a humorous anecdote, about a College student who asked whether “Bill Nye” is his real name. (It is.)
Once the room settled down, Nye began his PowerPoint presentation. He spoke about the importance of space exploration and noted that the students at the College are members of the “Space Generation” — born after the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957.
“I’m a big supporter of space exploration,” he said, “and a big supporter of it at an economical level.”
Global climate was the next topic of discussion. Nye explained that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 389 parts per million in 2010, which also registered a temperature increase of 0.7 degrees Celsius. Nye acknowledged that the planet experiences natural temperature fluctuations but said the speed of these spikes indicates they are the result of human activities.
“The world has never gotten this warm this fast,” he said.
Among the American practices Nye gently criticized for contributing to global climate change were livestock farm subsidies and NASCAR racing. According to Nye, the former artificially drives down the price of and increases the consumption of meat, the production of which requires a lot of energy. The latter encourages fuel waste, he said, since NASCAR vehicles run on leaded gasoline and only get five miles per gallon.
“When I was young, racing tested new technology,” Nye explained. “Now it’s a celebration of the past at a time we have to be proactive.”
Scientific innovation has the potential to alleviate the problems caused by climate change, Nye asserted. He cautioned that nuclear energy is not a viable solution for the world’s impending energy crisis, citing the recent disaster at the Japanese Fukushima power plant as an example of its dangers. Calling himself “kooky for wind power,” he described the solar energy panels and solar water heaters he uses in his own home and proposed a new highway design to provide room for bicycles rather than sport utility vehicles.
“I submit to you: You can change everything,” he said. “There are things that we are absolutely sure of that are just wrong.”
The evening ended with a question-and-answer session, which showcased Nye’s expansive knowledge of all branches of science. He spoke about the importance of early science and math education — especially algebra — in creating the next generation of space explorers and engineers.
“Science education changed my life,” he said. “We don’t have enough elementary science teachers. Everybody who got excited about science got into it before they were ten.”
Nye’s final piece of advice to College students was to exercise their right to vote in order to support the implementation of legislation based on sound science.
“We need a scientifically literate populace when we have problems and we go to pass laws,” he said.
Nye’s sense of humor was on display throughout the evening. The scientist is a master of physical comedy, performing amusing impersonations of geology majors and reenacting the fear he felt lying face-down over the crater of Mt. St. Helens. He also knew his audience; Nye very subtlety slipped in a reference to College alumnus Thomas Jefferson.
The presentation concluded with Nye’s recitation of the inscription on the Mars sundial he helped send to the Red Planet.
“ ‘To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery,’” he quoted. “That’s what science is about. That’s why I got into this. That’s why, I suspect, you watched the show.”
As he was applauded off-stage, the Science Guy delivered a final benediction to the devoted fans who grew up inspired by his wisdom.
“I would like you to do one thing,” Nye said. “Go forth and change the world.”