Most people know that Bill Nye is a famously funny scientist, educator and author. Being the face of the show Bill Nye, the Science Guy turned him into a household name and helped him to become a classroom staple, beloved by generations of young viewers. His passion for science is clear, and his friendly and easy-going personality makes him one of television’s most positive role models. But of those who aren’t familiar with him outside of his program, make no mistake: Bill Nye doesn’t just play a scientist on TV. He’s an actual scientist with an impressive educational background and an amazing work resume. Here are six awesome things you didn’t know about Bill Nye, the Science Guy.
He’s been campaigning for better education for decades.
Nye has been emphasizing the importance of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) learning for decades, promoting its learning any chance he gets. In addition to spending a wealth of time speaking and writing widely on the subjects, he frequently speaks at National Science Teacher Association conferences. In 2000, shortly after a study ranking the world’s schools was released, Nye told audiences, “If the U.S. was ranked 17th in the world in track and field or in Olympic swimming [instead of science and math among eighth-graders], there would be a tremendous outcry…Imagine the money that would be spent to fix that.”
His mother was a World War II codebreaker and a science whiz.
Nye’s mother, Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye was so adept at math and science that she was recruited to become a Navy cryptographer during World War II, working to crack the infamous Nazi Enigma Code. At the time, she was finishing up her psychology degree at Goucher College in 1942 when she and several other young women were called to the dean’s office in a secret meeting. The U.S. Secretary of War was scouting women’s colleges “seeking their best and brightest for a project so secret that none of the participants was allowed to know its purpose,” according to the Baltimore Sun. After graduation, Jenkins joined an elite group of people whose work as cryptanalysts or codebreakers helped crack the Japanese and German militaries’ very crafty communication codes. The three major themes of her life were science, education and dedication which had an incredible influence on her son. Nye told The Baltimore Sun, “[My mother] told me how to cook – and how to make the famous family salad dressing that her grandmother taught her to make, which was pure chemistry. She taught me how to sew, even. To this day, I still own a sewing machine. And to this day, I can still hear her chanting in my ear: ‘Sit up straight! Shoulders back! Now train, train, train! Do it until you get it right!”
His hit TV show was based on a comedy sketch.
Prior to Bill Nye, the Science Guy’s release in 1993, Nye was doing his quirky-yet-educational experiments on the comedy show Almost Live, which aired on Seattle NBC affiliate KING-TV from 1984 to 1999. In one 1990 Almost Live episode, Nye used the studio’s less-than-professional-grade equipment, or as Nye put it, its “Micky-Mouse, the Science Guy” setup to tease chemistry lessons out of glasses of Coca-Cola for the benefit of the show’s live audience and the scene’s less-than-impressed host. On top of being the show’s go-to science expert, he also filled the heroic role of “Speed Walker” on the program. His popular hit TV show very much paralleled the sketch. He’s had his hand in a number of hit science shows.
It probably comes as no surprise that Nye played a number of roles in bringing science-friendly programming to the small screen. From 1991 to 1992, Nye helped organize live-action science experiments on Back to the Future: The Animated Series as Christopher Lloyd’s nonspeaking onscreen assistant. He also had his hand in BattleBots, Numb3rs and Stargate: Atlantis. From 2000 to 2002, he served as the technical expert on the robot fighting show, BattleBots. A math education lecture he gave inspired the detective show Numb3rs and led to his reoccurring cameos on it. He also produced Solving for X, an algebra-teaching series of DVDs, and even showed up in an episode of Stargate: Atlantis to give one character a little nerd-style bullying with the help of Neil deGrasse Tyson.
He applied repeatedly to be an astronaut.
Nye had a deep desire to become an astronaut, so much so that he applied four times for NASA’s astronaut training program, but he was always rejected. He blamed this rejection on the fact that he did not have a Ph.D., though he did have a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University. Nye later joked to AOL that it may have been because he was completely unqualified. You have to love his humor. Despite not being accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program, he did make his mark on Mars. Nye was part of a team that designed the MarsDial, a tool installed on the Spirit, Opportunity and Curiosity rovers that helps calibrate color in photos taken of the planet from inside its thinner, different-colored atmosphere. How cool is that?
He and Ed Begley Jr. once engaged in a battle to have the greenest house.
Nye has put a lot of thought and time into making his house as eco-friendly as possible which probably comes as no surprise given his love for science and nature. When Nye lived next door to actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr., they enjoyed some friendly competition where the environment was concerned. In 2008, Nye was in the lead. The solar panels and various home upgrades meant his house more energy back into his local power grid than it took out. Then, in late 2015, Begley moved. At the time, he had nine kilowatts of solar panels on his roof to Nye’s four, which put Begley in the lead. Nye told National Geographic, “a different neighbor’s house blocked the sun at certain times of the day. I’ve thought about cutting that part of her house down,” he laughingly said, “but it probably wouldn’t be the most neighborly thing to do.”
When Bill Nye’s the topic, there’s no shortage of cool and surprising facts. We’ll always love him for his trademark blue lab coat, colorful bow ties and sharing of facts that we didn’t know we wanted to know. He’s made an incredible mark on the science world and he will always be admired for it.