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Saturday, May 05, 2012

Bill Nye The Science Guy

Science and I did not mix.

When I was in school, science was easily one of my least favourite subjects. I didn't quite understand the difference between inertia and kinetic energy, I bungled up the periodic table of elements on a regular basis, and I didn't particularly like working with bunsen burners for fear that the science experiment that I was working on would explode directly in my face.

My grades in science class were always on the low side. I didn't fail any science classes, but I didn't exactly do well in the subject either. Thankfully, I had lab partners who actually knew what they were doing or else I would have been stuck in high school science forever!

(I make a far better writer anyways.)

At the same time, there were instances in which we would have science tests and quizzes, and have to create science projects in school, and I would be a complete disaster at them. Whenever we had the school science fair where all the seventh and eighth grade students had to create their own science projects for display, my science fair projects were always considered to be among some of the worst ones. I ended up doing a science fair project on how to turn a mirror into a magnet using a makeup mirror from a discarded compact my sister owned, a bolt, and a fridge magnet shaped like the letter “W”.

At least they rewarded me with a participation certificate...

To say that I needed help in making sure that I didn't get an “F” in science class would be an understatement. Problem was, I didn't have a whole lot of options to get me through the pitfalls of science class. My parents were just as clueless about science class as I was, and although one of my siblings went through to become a registered nurse (which meant a lot of science classes for her), she could only help out with the biology portion.

I needed a miracle. And that miracle came on September 10, 1993.

That was the day that the television show “Bill Nye The Science Guy” debuted on PBS (or TVOntario, which was the station that I remember watching it on). Hosted by Bill Nye, the show ran until the spring of 1998, winning nineteen Emmy Awards and producing exactly one hundred episodes in total.

Even after nearly fifteen years since the last episode aired, Bill Nye The Science Guy still airs on some select PBS stations, and many schools all over the United States and Canada still use the program to supplement lesson plans in science curriculums.

This show made all the difference for me in science class. I watched this show religiously during the entire time it aired. I didn't care that I was 17 years old when the show finally aired. If it was helping me pass science, then it had to be good, right?

But, that's exactly what Bill Nye's show did. He made science easy to understand. He made learning about science FUN!

Each program dealt with a particular scientific concept. The episodes covered a wide variety of subjects such as buoyancy, blood and circulation, momentum, energy, and space exploration, and Bill Nye explained things so clearly. He made it easy to understand each of the scientific terms, but he didn't talk down to the viewer. It was absolutely perfect.

I suppose one of the best ways that I could best describe the show is what might happen when you infuse 1990s era MTV with a science lecture. The show itself was made up of quick cuts, flashy visuals, bold colours, and all the other things that were guaranteed to make a 12-year-old tune in.

The show even produced science-themed music videos designed to help kids understand scientific themes. They were more often than not a spoof of a popular song at the time the show aired.

Some examples of this featured the following videos...whether the show was spoofing Nirvana...


...The B-52's...

...or even Billy Ray Cyrus...

...the show did a fantastic job combining music and science together...even if they seem horribly outdated and cheesy by 2012 standards. But here's a little bit of an admission for you. At times during science class, I ended up playing some of these Bill Nye songs in my brain while I was taking science exams, and believe it or not, it helped me improve my science grade!

But, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Bill Nye was so knowledgeable in the field of science. Don't let the sky blue lab coat and bowtie fool you, this was a man who really knew what he was talking about.

Nye was born on November 27, 1955 in Washington, D.C, and at an early age, he was almost destined to pursue a career in science. His family background was quite impressive, as his father was a prisoner of war during World War II, and his mother worked as a codebreaker during that same war.

Shortly after graduating high school in 1973, he enrolled in Cornell University's mechanical engineering program, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1977.

Nye began his career at Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, Washington, where he ended up getting his first taste of what life would be like in front of a the star of many of the training films that Boeing produced for new employees. But, while he was there, he also ended up doing some fantastic things for the company, including designing a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor, which is currently used in the design of Boeing 747s.

Bill Nye also assisted in the development of a small sundial that was included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions (which had significant meaning considering that his father once made a living selling sundials upon his return home from his POW days). Nye was also the vice president of The Planetary Society for five years, and holds several patents for various scientific inventions including one for ballet pointe shoes!

So, as you can see, Nye wasn't just an actor pretending to be a scientist. He knew his stuff. But it wasn't until 1984 that Bill Nye would start to make an impact in the world of television.

According to the Internet Movie Database, Bill Nye ended up winning a Steve Martin lookalike contest! I myself don't see the resemblance, but maybe when he was younger, he did...whatever the case, this contest ended up kickstarting Bill Nye's desire to become an entertainer in addition to working in the field of science. In 1984, Nye joined the cast of a local sketch comedy show called “Almost Live!” in Seattle, where he first donned the signature lab coat and bowtie. In that sketch, the host of the show mispronounced the word 'gigawatt', and when Nye corrected it, the host responded “Who do you think you are? - Bill Nye the Science Guy?'

The name stuck.

A few years later, Bill Nye ended up joining the cast of the animated series based on the “Back To The Future” trilogy. He wasn't actually animated into the series though...instead he starred in a special live action segment that was hosted by Christopher Lloyd (who of course played Doc Brown in the movies). Here's a clip of Bill in action from the show.

Okay, okay, so Bill didn't exactly speak a word in this segment. But from 1991-1993, that was his job.

Well, until “Bill Nye The Science Guy” came along, that is.

But don't think for a minute that Bill Nye stopped appearing in front of the camera after production wrapped up on the series. He stayed just as busy in front of the camera as he was off screen. In 2005, Bill Nye produced another series for PBS entitled “The Eyes Of Nye”. It was aimed at an older audience, but still focused largely on scientific themed information, as well as discussing politically relevant themes such as global warming and genetically modified food.

Other television appearances that Bill Nye made over the years after “Bill Nye The Science Guy” wrapped up include the following...

  • Portraying a science teacher in the 1998 Disney film “The Principal Takes A Holiday
  • Was the technical expert for the 2000-2002 television series BattleBots
  • Hosted the Science Channel series “100 Greatest Discoveries” from 2004-2005
  • Guest-starred on the television series Numb3rs
  • Made guest appearances on the VH1 reality series “World's Most Smartest Model”
  • A regular contributor to TV Land discussions
  • Is frequently the “Ask The Expert” lifeline in the syndicated version of “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?”
  • Countless appearances on various talk shows

That's about all that I have to say about Bill Nye the Science Guy. Not only did he make science fun to learn, but he saved me from getting terrible grades in my own science class.

Bill Nye the Science Guy, I salute you, good sir. Keep on doing what you've been doing.

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