How Bill Nye Became “The Science Guy” After Moving to Seattle

Bill Nye’s story reminds us why it’s so important for cities to remain (or return to being) vibrant places where artists and weird young people can come and do amazing things.

↑ Via Big Think (or in this case, Bill Think).


Kiera: Hi, my name is Kiera and my question for you is: What was your influence to start Bill Nye? Like, did someone ask you to, or why do you still continue it?

Bill Nye: Kiera that’s a great question. Let the record show I did not cue Kiera to ask this question. She said, why did I start doing the science guy.

So I had very influential teachers. I had great teachers when I was in school. And then I got a job at Boeing in Seattle. It was a long way. I grew up back East. I grew up in Washington D.C. For those of you not in North America, I went 5,000 kilometers from home, 3,000 miles from home. And I didn’t really know anybody.

I started—I was a Big Brother, a United Way Big Brother, and I started volunteering at the Pacific Science Center which is still there, one of my beloved institutions. And I was a science explainer.

Because I’m a mechanical engineer, I took a lot of science. I especially took a lot of physics. I took a lot of physics. And so I was a science explainer, and it was fun.

And then I was working for these guys, they were all men, at a company that—they were obsessed with making a profit every quarter, every three months. And you can do that—if you’re making Big Think videos, if you’re making paper towels, if you’re printing a magazine or publishing anything you can plan three months, you can do that. But when you’re trying to design a business jet—a navigation system for business jets—that was going to be two-thirds as big as the one it was going to compete within the marketplace, you can’t do that in three months. And these guys were obsessed with it.

And I just decided I wanted to affect the future.

I wanted to affect people like you Kiera. And I was in a writer’s meeting and we needed six minutes of—not only was I working on a drawing board making just tiny, very precise instruments that can detect the gravitational pull of the moon every day. Not only was I doing that, I was writing jokes for a comedy show in Seattle. And we had to fill six minutes which in television is a long time.

And this guy who’s still just a dear friend of mine, Ross Shafer, said why don’t you do that stuff you’re always talking about Bill. That stuff about the science. You could be, I don’t know, Bill Nye, The Science Guy, or something. Ross Shafer is the guy’s name. And then he left. He had to go do his radio show. He was a DJ in Seattle. And I thought that’s a good idea.

So I did that—household uses of liquid nitrogen because, you know, we all have liquid nitrogen around, of course we do! And it was funny.

And that led to this—I had this idea: I want to be the next television science communicator. The next television science educator. I grew up with a guy named Don Herbert whose theatrical name was Mr. Wizard. He was just a great guy and I wanted to carry the torch.

And I’m just delighted that you watch the show. I love you Kiera. Thank you.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Nye’s story reminds us why it’s so important for cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Oakland to remain (or return to being) vibrant places where artists and weird young people – like young Bill Nye – can come and live and do amazing things like work for Boeing by day and write for a comedy show by night and, ultimately, contribute something of immense value to us all.

By The Editors

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