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.
Nye was born on 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 had enlisted to help crack the codes that were used by the Japanese and German military. "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!'"
Nye attended Lafayette Elementary School and Alice Deal Junior High before attending Sidwell Friends for high school on a scholarship in 1973. Nye moved to Ithaca, New York to attend Cornell University and study at the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. His enthusiasm for science was deepened after taking 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 look-alike contest in 1978. Nye's friends began asking him to do Steve Martin impressions at parties and he discovered how much he loved to make people laugh. Nye began moonlighting as a comedian, while still holding his day job as a mechanical engineer at Boeing. Nye has stated of that time: "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!. Nye first got his big break on the show from John Keister who met him during an open mic night. After a guest canceled, co-host Ross Shafer mentioned to Nye that he had seven minutes of programming to fill. "Why don't you do that science stuff?" Shafer suggested. On the show, Nye entertained audiences with comical demonstrations like what happens when you eat a marshmallow that's been dunked 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 speed-walking association."
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 through great lengths to meet with Sagan at Cornell. His assistant told Nye, "Okay, you can talk to him for five minutes." While meeting him 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 he said, 'Focus on pure science. Kids resonate to pure science rather than technology.' And that turned out to be great advice."
Even though Nye had become a regular on Almost Live!, he was only doing freelance work for the program. While looking for more TV gigs, Nye was given the opportunity in 1989 to host a short educational program on Washington State's wetlands called Fabulous 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 became, in many ways, a model for Nye's later show, with "zany camera cuts paired with Nye's humor" that set it apart from the typical scientific broadcast. Nye soon began getting more offers to make appearances on nationally broadcast programs, including taping eight segments for the Disney Channel's All-New Mickey Mouse Club.
In 1993, he developed a Bill Nye the Science Guy pilot for public broadcasting station KCTS-TV in Seattle. Nye collaborated with James McKenna, Erren Gottlieb and Elizabeth Brock to plan and create the show for KCTS. The group pitched the show as Mr. Wizard meets Pee-wee's Playhouse. He successfully obtained underwriting from the National Science Foundation and the US Department of Energy. Nye's 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, with Disney distributing the series.
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 was awarded an honorary doctorate by Johns Hopkins University in May 2008. In May 2011, Nye received an honorary doctor of science degree 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 his participation as the keynote speaker at the ceremony. In addition, Nye also received an honorary doctor of pedagogy degree from Lehigh University on May 20, 2013, at the commencement ceremony. Nye 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) presented Nye their highest award In Praise of Reason, 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. She continues by saying that 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".
From 2000 to 2002, Nye was the technical expert on BattleBots. In 2004 and 2005, Nye hosted 100 Greatest Discoveries, an award-winning series produced by THINKFilm for The Science Channel and in high definition on the Discovery HD Theater. He was also host of an eight-part Discovery Channel series called Greatest Inventions with Bill Nye. Nye guest-starred in several episodes of the crime drama Numb3rs as an engineering faculty member. A lecture Nye gave on exciting children about math was an inspiration for the creation of the show. 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, entitled The Eyes of Nye, aimed at an older audience and tackling more controversial science subject matter 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 wasn't able to produce an Eyes of Nye 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, though the show 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 for only one season and Nye acknowledged ditching 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, stole several items, including his laptop which she used to send defamatory emails impersonating him and damaged his garden with herbicide. Tindall acknowledged killing his plants but denied being a threat to him. Subsequently, Nye sued Tindall for $57,000 in attorney's fees after she allegedly violated the protective order.
In 2008, he also hosted Stuff Happens, a short-lived show on the Planet Green network. In November 2008, Nye appeared in an acting role as himself in the fifth-season episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis alongside fellow television personality and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.
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 in October 2009. Nye joined the American Optometric Association in a multimedia advertising campaign to persuade parents to get their children comprehensive eye examinations.
In the early 2000s, Nye assisted in the development of a small sundial that was included in the Mars Exploration Rover missions. Known as MarsDial, it included small colored panels to provide a basis for color calibration in addition to helping keep track of time. 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 Nye as commander of the Clean Energy Space Station and invited visitors on an urgent mission to thwart climate change.
Nye gave a solar noon clock atop Rhodes Hall to Cornell on August 27, 2011, following a public lecture that filled the 715-seat Statler Auditorium. Nye talked about his father's passion for sundials and timekeeping, his time at Cornell, his work on the sundials mounted on the Mars rovers and the story behind the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock. Nye conducted a Q&A session after the 2012 Mars Rover Landing.
In July 2012, Nye supported President Barack Obama's reelection bid. Nye frequently consulted with Obama on science matters during his 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 the move. "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 said. He 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 threaten science education and innovation in the United States. In February 2014, Nye debated creationist Ken Ham at the Creation Museum on the topic of 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, which was released in 2017.
Nye is a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, a U.S. non-profit scientific and educational organization whose aim is to promote 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 stated that his "concern right now ... scientific illiteracy ... you [the public] don't have enough rudimentary knowledge of the universe to evaluate claims." In November 2012, Nye launched a Kickstarter project for an educational Aerodynamics game called AERO 3D but it was not funded.
In 2013, Bill Nye guest starred in The Big Bang Theory episode "The Proton Displacement." Sheldon Cooper befriends him and brings him in to teach Leonard Hofstader a "lesson" after Professor Proton (portrayed by Bob Newhart) helps Leonard out with an experiment instead of him. There was a claim by Professor Proton that Bill Nye made his TV series similar to his show. After he and Sheldon leave, Leonard receives a selfie of the two of them having smoothies, and later gets a text from Sheldon asking for a ride home, stating Bill Nye ditched him at the smoothie store. In a later discussion with Professor Proton, Sheldon revealed that Bill 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 supports 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, Nye stated "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 titled 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.
In July 2017, Nye observed that the majority of climate change deniers are older people, and stated, "so we're just going to have to wait for those people to 'age out', as they say". He has continued his advocacy against climate change and was featured on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on May 12, 2019, in which he discussed climate change and the proposed Green New Deal. During the episode he stated;
In 2018, Nye guest starred in an episode of Blindspot entitled "Let It Go", playing a fictionalized version of himself who is the father of the character Patterson. His fictional self also alludes to his rivalry with Rodney McKay which was established in the aforementioned episode "Brain Storm" of Stargate Atlantis. In the same year, Nye made a guest appearance on The Big Bang Theory as himself, together with fellow scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson, in the first episode of the show's final season ("The Conjugal Configuration").
In July 2018, Nye played for the National League squad during the MLB All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game. Despite striking out in his first at-bat, Nye singled in the bottom of the third inning to a rousing ovation from the Nationals Park crowd.