If you were a child of the 80s or early 90s, chances are Bill Nye was a huge part of your childhood. Whether you watched Bill Nye The Science Guy every afternoon after school, or tuned in to watch his wacky sketches on Almost Live, chances are you recognised the scientist and his iconic bow tie.
Now he’s back in the spotlight, with a new Netflix show called Bill Nye Saves The World, and a mission to teach science to a whole new generation. In order to celebrate the return of everyone’s favourite science educator to laptops and television screens around the world, we’re counting down the top 10 things you might not have known about Bill Nye The Science Guy.
10. He’s a Steve Martin fanboy
No matter how famous you get, there will always be a bigger celebrity who makes you feel like just another fan. With that said, it’s hard to imagine someone as recognisable as Bill Nye getting intimidated or flustered, especially since he’s such a rational and calm person.
However, even the science guy has his weaknesses, and apparently they all centre on one person: Steve Martin. When he was younger, Nye even won a lookalike contest for the comedian, and has called him a hero on many different occasions.
He even went so far as to write him a note thanking him for inspiring him to get into television, but unfortunately, he never heard back.
According to Nye, Martin probably thinks he’s a stalker, and will probably never agree to meet him in person. Still, Nye has said that taking Martin out for lunch is one of his biggest goals, and he hasn’t given up hope yet.
9. His dad was a prisoner of war
Nye has said over and over again in interviews, that his parents are his greatest inspirations. Without them, he never would have been inspired to build his career around curiosity and exploration, and he might never have got into either science or broadcasting.
In particular, he learned about courage from his father, who was a veteran in the second world war. He was even taken and kept as a prisoner of war, in a cell without electricity, meaning very little light or heat.
The harrowing experience led to Nye’s father developing a love of and fascination with sundials, which he used to track the time and make his days more bearable.
The way in which he took a dark situation and filled it with wonder and curiosity was a particular inspiration to Nye, who then made it his mission to show others how science can be used to improve people’s lives.
8. He applied to be an astronaut
Many people who go on to become famous scientists start out with a fascination with space, and Bill Nye was no different. While studying at university, the most inspiring class he took was his introductory astronomy class, which gave him a lifelong desire to go to the stars.
Because of this, he applied to be a part of NASA’s astronaut program straight out of college, and reapplied every year for numerous years. He was never accepted, which he joked was because he was “totally unqualified”.
More likely, he was rejected because he never actually got a PHD, something that NASA unofficially required for everyone entering the astronaut program. Nye only had a degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell, which the administrators at NASA apparently weren’t impressed by.
However, even if Nye never physically got to space, he made his mark on the stars pretty quickly. This is because he was part of the team that designed the MarsDial, a tool installed in all the Mars rovers’ that allowed them to properly judge the colours of space when taking pictures.
7. He has a very specific cheat food
Bill Nye has spent a lifetime educating children and families about the importance of science, and that includes the science of eating and living healthily.
Given that a lot of that work focussed on diet and exercise, it’s not surprising that some of those healthy habits rubbed off on him.
However, everyone has guilty pleasures, and Nye is certainly no different. Though he mostly tries to keep up a healthy lifestyle, by exercising regularly and mostly eating food that’s good for him, Nye doesn’t object to the odd treat.
Whenever he does want to have a cheat day, there’s one food he normally gravitates to. As he explained in an interview, his favourite cheat food is one slice of locally sourced bacon, which he fries up with butter and chard as a perfect snack.
6. He worked on BattleBots
Nye might be most famous for the shows he worked on that contained his own name, such as Bill Nye The Science Guy and, more recently, Bill Nye Saves The World. However, those were by far not the only programs he worked on.
For a start, the educational detective show Numb3rs was actually inspired by one of his own educational lectures, and he also cameo’d in an episode of Stargate: Atlantis, where he acted along fellow TV scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson as a nerdy bully.
With that said, the biggest projects he worked out outside of his own shows were probably Solving For X, and BattleBots. Solving for X was an educational series that was released on DVD, and aimed at getting more kids interested in maths, through fun skits and examples.
BattleBots could not have been more different from that, since it was an entertainment show where teams built robots that would then fight each other. Bill worked as a technical advisor on the show, where he gave science-based advice to teams about how to make their deadly robots more efficient.
5. He got in a fight over carbon emissions
Competition between neighbours is nothing new, and even among celebrities it can be unavoidable. For example, when Bill Nye moved in next door to actor and environmentalist Ed Begley Jr, the rivalry was immediate.
However, the rivalry wasn’t about who had the prettier lawn or the better driveway, instead it was based on who had the more environmentally friendly home set up.
Nye was initially winning, since he had solar panels on the roof of his home, and other upgrades to make the house use power more efficiently. This meant that in total, his house was putting more power into the local grid than it was taking out.
With that said, by the time Begel moved neighbourhoods he was undoubtedly winning, since he had nine kilowatts of solar energy to Nye’s four. That wasn’t entirely his fault though, since another neighbour’s house was blocking the sun. Nye was resistant to losing the bet, and even considered cutting off the part of their neighbour’s house that was getting in the way.
4. He went to a famous school
Bill Nye grew up in Washington DC, and attended public school for the first few years of his life. He didn’t have a good time there, due to the hugely overcrowded classrooms, which made it difficult to learn anything.
Not only that, but classroom bullies were everywhere, and teaching was constantly interrupted to deal with the behaviour of the class. Nye’s parents could see that he wasn’t responding well to the school, and decided to do something about it.
Thanks to the hard work of his parents, as well as his own hard work, Nye was able to transfer to the Sidwell Friends School, a private Quaker school. He got a partial scholarship, and was placed into classes that helped to grow his love for science.
The school has since become famous as the place that those working in the White House send their kids, with both the Obama children and the daughter of Hilary Clinton attending classes there.
3. He was taught by a legend
While studying at Cornell University, Bill Nye took an astronomy class taught by Carl Sagan – another famous science communicator.
Nye was immediately inspired by the man’s love of and commitment to science, and it cemented for him a desire to work in science entertainment and education as well.
Later, Nye attended a university reunion with Sagan, and mentioned to him his plans to go into broadcasting. Sagan gave him a piece of advice that Nye later said was invaluable, saying “Just focus on pure science. Kids focus on pure science.”
Following Sagan’s footsteps even further, Sagan joined The Planetary Society, an organisation that Sagan founded. Not only that, but when Sagan died years later, Nye took over his position as CEO of the society.
2. He’s obsessed with fast cars
Bill Nye is famous for his mild manners and gentle way have speaking, which have made him the perfect science presenter and communicator. However, while his onscreen persona is reserved and kind, not every part of his personality is so chilled out.
For example, Nye has said on numerous occasions that he’s absolutely obsessed with speed. He loves to drive fast, but has spoken out about reckless driving often, stating that a car is just as much of a weapon as a gun.
Not only that, but his need for speed has led him to reach out to NASCAR, encouraging them to switch from petrol cars to electric ones.
He also attends electric car shows often, and shares his enthusiasm for the development of such technology frequently on social media.
1. His mother was a WW2 Codebreaker
Nye has said repeatedly that both of his parents had a huge influence on him, but that the influence of his mother was “infinite and immeasurable”, which is unsurprising given her exciting and science-based life.
Nye’s mother studied psychology in the 1940s, and was called into her Dean’s office one day for a top secret meeting. As it turned out, she had been selected as one of the brightest students in the school, and had been picked for a mission so top secret that she wasn’t even allowed to know what it was.
After she agreed to the mission, she found out she was working as a codebreaker for the US government, working to decode messages sent between both the German and Japanese soldiers in World War 2.
She was chosen for her maths skills, which were way above average, as well as for her knowledge of human psychology. She taught Nye the value of courage and intelligence, as well as teaching him practical skills like sewing.