Growing up in the 90s, there were a fair amount of influences in my life, though, to be honest, most of them were animated. There was just one, however, that crossed over from my spare time into my high school curriculum: the works of Billy Nye the Science Guy. Our science teacher used to put his videos on nearly every day in science, chemistry, and physics, not because he was a lazy teacher, but because Bill Nye shared his enthusiasm for science and could display it in a more entertaining fashion.
It’s easy for me to say that I was influenced by that enthusiasm, as it is something I have felt every day of my life since.
It might be less obvious than those that went on to pursue careers in scientific fields. No, I did not become a biologist or a mechanical engineer. Nor did I become a geologist. Admittedly, my dedication to the show and its ideals may have fallen short compared to those that did. What I did take from the show, though, were the concepts of honesty, passion, and the experience of getting into something I might not otherwise have been excited about through the overwhelming and infectious enthusiasm of Bill Nye.
Last night I finally got to witness the man speak in person, and, as anyone who has ever seen a favorite band play live will tell you, the experience of seeing someone perform live is wholly different from the one-sided interaction you were previously familiar with.
The tone was set immediately as the Bill Nye theme song introduced the man himself, taking me back instantly to the age of 9 when my focus was merely twofold: cartoons and the educational entertainment of Bill Nye the Science Guy.
Nye, after winding the crowd down from what seemed like an eternity of cheering and applause, then dove into his personal history. He wove a tale of his beginnings by introducing us to his mother and father, who had fascinating lives themselves. His mother worked on the description of the Enigma code, and his dad was on Wake Island when the bombing attacks on Pearl Harbour began.
A collection of family photos and saved newspaper clippings helped to cement, visually, the story of the Nyes as they earned their unique places in history… right on down to the introduction of William Nye. We learned that he was introduced to the world of scientific discovery by a curiosity regarding the common bumblebee. Being fascinated by the idea that this creature flew in the face of known physics, he began to seek out more and more about how things worked.
The history of Nye was brought into the present, as we quickly stumbled through a series of clips about the videos he’s been producing, talks of the organization he’s now the CEO of (The Planetary Society), and what he’s been working on: laser bees! No joke, the Planetary Society is working on a concept for solar-powered robots with lasers that would swarm in outer space to attack on-coming asteroids to redirect them should we ever have the need to, say, save our planet from a second mass extinction.
There were plenty of fun science experiments offered up along the way, of course: the classic use of liquid nitrogen (which was a call back to the first appearance of the character, Bill Nye the Science Guy, during his run on Almost Live), the garbage can air-cannon, and a Canada-centric talk about the Oil Sands in Alberta. However, the most impacting moments of the show were when he took time out to share moments that were somehow “Classic Nye” without being something we’d seen before.
My favorite example of which was inviting a volunteer up from the audience to teach (all of us really) the proper method to use in tying a bow tie. As cliché as it is to say, it was heart-warming. The man is one part Mr. Rogers and one part mad scientist and it came across in the most honest and inspiring way.
Now, I would like to say that for the duration of the time we shared as audience and speaker I remained as a 9 year old child wide-eyed being wowed by science again like everything was new again (which is mostly true), but I’d be lying. Nye has an uncanny ability to bridge the gap between the warm fuzzy feeling of nostalgia and the present to inform an audience as to what he believes to be the most pressing concerns of our time, that being the environment; specifically climate change, and more specifically to the Canadian show information about the aforementioned Oil Sands.
In my time, I have been lucky enough to see Radiohead while it poured rain in flawless thematic form on the audience at Thunderbird Stadium. I have seen Metallica perform a set of songs that seemed to span their entire discography with the production of a film set (which it was, as they were filming their movie). I have been to Rammstein and seen use of more pyrotechnics and stage pieces then I would have ever thought possible to fit into Rogers Arena; criss-crossed above, behind, and in front of the audience. I have seen plays and comedians, timeless pieces of art performed at the very highest levels all over North America, but nothing has been as life-affirming as the show I got to witness last night.
Bill Nye has a rare talent for being able to turn us all into children and back again as he requires, to warm our hearts with his love of science before rallying us behind noble causes, using his gift for the benefit of the world that we live in. It was funny, it was smart, it was informative, and it was a big ol’ check off on my personal bucket list.
So, while I may not have gone on to become a scientist, and I probably won’t ever save the world with my personal advancement of science (like laser bees), I will forever carry the lessons learned by Bill Nye as a writer, hoping to interject that same level of honesty, passion, positivity, and open mindedness that he’s taught me into my own work.
Also, you should probably pick up his book, you know, for the holidays.