Nye was born November 27, 1955, in Washington, D.C., to Jacqueline Jenkins-Nye (née Jenkins; 1921–2000), who was a codebreaker during World War II; and Edwin Darby "Ned" Nye (1917–1997), who also served in World War II and worked as a contractor building an airstrip on Wake Island. Ned was captured and spent four years in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp; living without electricity or watches, he learned how to tell time using the shadow of a shovel handle, spurring his passion for sundials. Jenkins-Nye was among a small elite group of young women known as "Goucher Girls," alumnae of Goucher College in Towson, Maryland, whom the Navy enlisted to help crack codes used by Japan and Germany. "She wasn't Rosie the Riveter, she was Rosie the Top-Secret Code Breaker," Nye recalls. "People would ask her what she did during World War II and she'd say, 'I can't talk about it, ha ha ha!'"
William Sanford Nye (born November 27, 1955), popularly known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, is an American science communicator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer. He is best known as the host of the PBS and syndicated children's science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998), the Netflix show Bill Nye Saves the World (2017–2018), and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media as a science educator.
Nye attended Lafayette Elementary School and Alice Deal Junior High before attending Sidwell Friends for high school on a scholarship, graduating in 1973. He moved to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University and study at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His enthusiasm for science deepened after he took an astronomy class with Carl Sagan. He graduated with a BS in mechanical engineering in 1977.
Nye started doing standup comedy after winning a Steve Martin lookalike contest in 1978. Nye's friends asked him to do Steve Martin impressions at parties, and he discovered how much he enjoyed making people laugh. He began moonlighting as a comedian while working at Boeing. He has stated, "At this point in our story, I was working on business jet navigation systems, laser gyroscope systems during the day, and I'd take a nap and go do stand-up comedy by night".
In 1986, Nye worked as a writer/actor on a local sketch comedy television show in Seattle called Almost Live!. He first got his big break on the show from John Keister who met him during an open mic night. After a guest canceled, cohost Ross Shafer told Nye he had seven minutes of programming to fill. "Why don't you do that science stuff?" Shafer suggested. Nye entertained audiences with comical demonstrations, including what happened when you ate a marshmallow that had been dipped in liquid nitrogen. His other main recurring role on Almost Live! was as Speed Walker, a speedwalking Seattle superhero "who fights crime while maintaining strict adherence to the regulations of the international speedwalking association."
Nye began his career as a mechanical engineer for Boeing Corporation in Seattle, where he invented a hydraulic resonance suppressor tube used on 747 airplanes. In 1986, Nye left Boeing to pursue comedy, writing and performing jokes and bits for the local sketch television show Almost Live!, where he regularly conducted wacky science experiments. Nye aspired to become the next Mr. Wizard, and with the help of several producers, successfully pitched the children's television program Bill Nye the Science Guy to KCTS-TV, Seattle's public television station. The show—which proudly proclaimed in its theme song that "science rules!"—ran from 1993 to 1998 in national TV syndication. Known for its "high-energy presentation and MTV-paced segments," the program became a hit among kids and adults, was critically acclaimed and was nominated for 23 Emmy Awards, winning 19.
Nye quit his job at Boeing on October 3, 1986 to focus on his burgeoning comedy career.
During Nye's 10-year college reunion in 1987, he went to great lengths to meet with Sagan at Cornell. Sagan's assistant told Nye, "Okay, you can talk to him for five minutes." In their meeting at the space sciences building, Nye explained that he was interested in developing a science television program. "I mentioned how I planned to talk about bridges and bicycles and so on—stuff that, as an engineer, I'd been interested in—and [Sagan] said, 'Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science rather than technology.' And that turned out to be great advice."
Even though Nye was regular on Almost Live!, he was only doing freelance work for the program. While looking for more TV gigs, he got the opportunity in 1989 to host Fabulous Wetlands, a short educational show about Washington's wetlands, sponsored by the Washington State Department of Ecology. On Fabulous Wetlands, Nye explained the importance of preserving estuaries, and the hazards of pollution. The show was, in many ways, a model for Nye's later show, with "zany camera cuts paired with Nye's humor" that set it apart from other scientific broadcasts. Nye soon got more offers to appear on nationally broadcast programs, including eight segments of the Disney Channel's All-New Mickey Mouse Club.
In 1993, collaborating with James McKenna, Erren Gottlieb and Elizabeth Brock, Nye developed a pilot for a new show, Bill Nye the Science Guy, for the Seattle public broadcasting station KCTS-TV. They pitched the show as "Mr. Wizard meets Pee-wee's Playhouse". Nye obtained underwriting for the show from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy. The program became part of a package of syndicated series that local stations could schedule to fulfill Children's Television Act requirements. Because of this, Bill Nye the Science Guy became the first program to run concurrently on public and commercial stations. The series was produced by Walt Disney Television and Rabbit Ears Productions, and distributed by Disney.
In addition to the TV show, Nye published several books as The Science Guy. A CD-ROM based on the series, titled Bill Nye the Science Guy: Stop the Rock!, was released in 1996 for Windows and Macintosh by Pacific Interactive.
In May 1999, Nye was the commencement speaker at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree. He received honorary doctorates from Johns Hopkins University in May 2008, and in May 2011 from Willamette University In May 2015, Rutgers University awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree and paid him a $35,000 speaker's fee for presenting the ceremony's keynote address. Nye also received an honorary doctor of pedagogy degree during a commencement ceremony at Lehigh University on May 20, 2013. He received the 2010 Humanist of the Year Award from the American Humanist Association. In October 2015, Nye was awarded an honorary doctorate of science from Simon Fraser University. In 2011, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSICOP) gave Nye their highest award, In Praise of Reason. On behalf of the committee, Eugenie Scott stated: "If you think Bill is popular among skeptics, you should attend a science teacher conference where he is speaking—it is standing room only... No one has more fun than Nye when he is demonstrating principles of science." In 1997, CSICOP also presented Nye with the Candle in the Dark Award for his "lively, creative... endeavor".
Nye's Science Guy personality is also prominent at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts—most notably his appearance with Ellen DeGeneres at Ellen's Energy Adventure, an attraction that ran from 1996 to 2017 at the Universe of Energy pavilion at Epcot at Walt Disney World. Nye's Science Guy character is also heard in a voice-over in the DINOSAUR attraction at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and was the on-air spokesman for the Noggin television network in 1999.
From 2000 to 2002, Nye was the technical expert on BattleBots. In 2004 and 2005, he hosted 100 Greatest Discoveries, an award-winning series produced by THINKFilm for The Science Channel, broadcast in high definition on the Discovery HD Theater network. He also hosted an eight-part Discovery Channel series, Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye. A lecture Nye gave on getting children excited about math inspired the creation of the crime drama Numb3rs, where Nye appeared in several episodes as an engineering professor. He also made guest appearances on the VH1 reality show America's Most Smartest Model.
Following the success of Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye began work on a comeback project, The Eyes of Nye, aimed at an older audience and tackling more controversial science topics such as genetically modified food, global warming and race. However, "shifting creative concepts, infighting among executives and disputes over money with Seattle producing station KCTS" significantly delayed production for years. KCTS was hampered by budgetary problems and couldn't produce a show pilot on time. "KCTS went through some distress," Nye recalled. "When we did The Eyes of Nye, the budget started out really big, and by the time we served all these little problems at KCTS, we had a much lower budget for the show than we'd ever had for the 'Science Guy' show which was made several years earlier." PBS declined to distribute Eyes of Nye, and it was eventually picked up by American Public Television. "PBS wanted more serious, in-depth Nova-style shows," explained co-producer Randy Brinson. The show, which eventually premiered in 2005, lasted only one season. Nye acknowledged that omitting his bow tie on the program was a mistake. "I tried wearing a straight tie. It was nothing," Nye said. "We were trying something new. It wasn't me."
Nye married musician Blair Tindall on February 3, 2006; however, he annulled the relationship seven weeks later when the marriage license was declared invalid. In 2007, Nye obtained a restraining order against Tindall after she broke into his house and stole several items, including his laptop computer, which she used to send defamatory emails impersonating Nye, and damaged Nye's garden with herbicide. Tindall acknowledged killing the plants but denied being a threat to Nye. Nye subsequently sued Tindall for $57,000 in attorney's fees after she allegedly violated the protective order.
In 2008, Nye hosted Stuff Happens, a short-lived show on the Planet Green network. In November 2008, he portrayed himself in the fifth-season episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis, alongside fellow television personality and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
In October 2009, Nye recorded a short YouTube video (as himself, not his TV persona) advocating clean-energy climate-change legislation, on behalf of Al Gore's Repower America campaign. He joined the American Optometric Association in a multimedia advertising campaign to persuade parents to provide their children with comprehensive eye examinations.
In the early 2000s, Nye assisted in the development of a small sundial included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions. Known as MarsDial, in addition to tracking time, it had small colored panels to provide a basis for color calibration. From 2005 to 2010, Nye was the vice president of the Planetary Society, an organization that advocates space science research and the exploration of other planets, particularly Mars. He became the organization's second Executive Director in September 2010 when Louis Friedman stepped down.
In November 2010, Nye became the face of a major science exhibition at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland, California. Bill Nye's Climate Lab featured him as commander of the Clean Energy Space Station and invited visitors on an urgent mission to thwart climate change.
On August 27, 2011, gave a public lecture at Cornell University that filled its 715-seat Statler Auditorium. He spoke of his father's passion for sundials and timekeeping, his time at Cornell, his work on the sundials on the Mars rovers, and the story behind the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock, which he then presented to the university atop Rhodes Hall.
In July 2012, Nye supported President Barack Obama's reelection bid. He frequently consulted with Obama on science matters during Obama's presidency, and famously took a selfie with him and Neil deGrasse Tyson at the White House. Nye attended the 2018 State of the Union Address after being invited by Oklahoma Congressman Jim Bridenstine. Nye's attendance drew scrutiny due to Bridestine's "history of expressing climate change skepticism," but Nye defended him: "While the Congressman and I disagree on a great many issues, we share a deep respect for NASA and its achievements and a strong interest in the future of space exploration. My attendance tomorrow should not be interpreted as an endorsement of this administration, or of Congressman Bridenstine's nomination, or seen as an acceptance of the recent attacks on science and the scientific community." Nye endorsed Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, but has not made another endorsement after Inslee suspended his campaign on August 21, 2019.
In September 2012, Nye claimed that creationist views threatened science education and innovation in the United States. In February 2014, he debated creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum on whether creation is a viable model of origins in today's modern, scientific era. In July 2016, Ham gave Nye a tour of the Ark Encounter the day after it first opened to the public. He and Ham had an informal debate while touring the structure, and footage from Nye's visit was subsequently included in the documentary film Bill Nye: Science Guy, released in 2017.
Nye is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a U.S. nonprofit scientific and educational organization that promotes scientific inquiry, critical investigation, and the use of reason in examining controversial and extraordinary claims. Interviewed by John Rael for the Independent Investigation Group IIG, Nye said that his "concern right now ... [is] scientific illiteracy ... you [the public] don't have enough rudimentary knowledge of the universe to evaluate claims." In November 2012, he launched a Kickstarter campaign for an educational aerodynamics game called AERO 3D, but it was not funded.
In 2013, Nye guest starred in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Proton Displacement." In the episode, Sheldon Cooper befriends Nye and brings him in to teach Leonard Hofstader a "lesson" after Professor Proton (played by Bob Newhart) helps Leonard with an experiment instead of Sheldon. Professor Proton accuses Bill Nye of making his TV series similar to Proton's show. After Nye and Sheldon leave, Leonard receives a selfie of the two having smoothies, and later gets a text from Sheldon asking for a ride home, as Nye has ditched him at the smoothie store. In a later discussion with Professor Proton, Sheldon reveals that Nye had a restraining order against him, so he could not help him contact Nye.
Nye was a contestant in the season 17 of Dancing with the Stars in 2013, partnered with new professional dancer Tyne Stecklein. They were eliminated early in the season after Nye sustained an injury to his quadriceps tendon on Week 3.
On February 28, 2014, Nye was a celebrity guest and interviewer at the White House Student Film Festival.
In March 2015, Nye announced he changed his mind and now supported GMOs. In a new edition of Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, Nye rewrote a chapter on GMOs reflecting his new position. In a radio interview with Neil deGrasse Tyson, he said, "There's no difference between allergies among GMO eaters and non-GMO eaters... I've changed my mind about genetically modified organisms".
On August 31, 2016, Netflix announced that Nye would appear in a new series, Bill Nye Saves the World, which premiered on April 21, 2017. Nye was honorary co-chair of the inaugural March for Science on April 22, 2017.
Following the success of his show, Nye continued to advocate for science, becoming the CEO of the Planetary Society and helping develop sundials for the Mars Exploration Rover missions. He has written two bestselling science books on science books: Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2014) and Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World (2015). He has appeared frequently on other TV shows, including Dancing with the Stars, The Big Bang Theory, and Inside Amy Schumer. He starred in a documentary about his life and science advocacy, Bill Nye: Science Guy, which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in March 2017; and, in October 2017, was named a NYT Critic's Pick. In 2017, he debuted the Netflix series Bill Nye Saves the World.
In July 2017, Nye observed that the majority of climate change deniers are older people, and said, "So we're just going to have to wait for those people to 'age out', as they say". He has continued to advocate against climate change. On Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on May 12, 2019, he discussed climate change and the proposed Green New Deal, and said:
In 2018, Nye guest-starred in an episode of Blindspot, "Let It Go", playing a fictionalized version of himself who is the father of the character Patterson. Nye's fictional self also alludes to his rivalry with Rodney McKay, which was established in the aforementioned "Brain Storm" episode of Stargate Atlantis. Also in 2018, Nye made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory as himself, together with fellow scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the first episode ("The Conjugal Configuration") of the show's final season.
In July 2018, Nye played for the National League squad at the MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game. After striking out in his first at-bat, he singled in the bottom of the third inning to a rousing ovation from the Nationals Park crowd.
In September 2019, Nye was a guest on Episode 127 of Jonathan Van Ness's podcast Getting Curious, where they discussed climate change, the failures of cold fusion, the potential of better battery technology for storage of energy produced by wind turbines and solar panels, the benefits of and forthcoming improvements to electric vehicles, and the detriment and failures of fossil fuel and nuclear energy, measures toward water cleanliness, the role of girls' and women's education in improving the environment, and the threat the Trump administration posed to the environment and to scientific thought in general.