On the surface, it seems unlikely that the announcement of an educational scientist with a penchant for bowties coming to McMaster to speak could cause the kind of hype that has consumed campus for the past several weeks. But when that scientist is Bill Nye, the beloved Science Guy of 1990’s TV programming, any student will tell you that such excitement is warranted.

Speaking to us from his California home on his 58th birthday, Nye was as enthusiastic about science as he was on screen 20 years ago. Since filming wrapped on Bill Nye the Science Guy in 1998, Nye has kept busy with new shows for the Discovery Channel, working with NASA on their Mars mission, and being involved with several scientific societies.

“Right now, one of the troubling things is that I don’t really have an average day,” Nye said. “I travel a lot to visit places like McMaster… The last three months have been busy with this Dancing with the Stars thing…”

While his present activities are fascinating in their own right, most of Bill Nye’s fame stems from the 100 episodes of the Science Guy that play in elementary schools across North America. Its origins, however, are far more humble.

The road to creating the show “took years,” according to Nye. He explained, “I was in a writers’ meeting for this comedy show in Seattle, and we needed to fill six minutes. The host, who is still a dear friend of mine, said, ‘why don’t you do that stuff you’re always talking about… You could be like, I don’t know, Bill Nye the Science Guy or something.’ So I came up with this bit on the household uses of liquid nitrogen – since we all have liquid nitrogen around – and it was funny.”

Those offhand ideas led to the full show eventually airing, fulfilling Nye’s childhood fascination for learning about the world and sharing his enthusiasm with others. He cites his brother as one person who got him into science.

“My older brother was very influential,” Nye said. “He had a chemistry set. And I remember he made ammonia in the palm of my hand, which was quite impressive. And I used to sit … and watch bees. I remember being absolutely fascinated with them. And then one day, I got stung by a bumblebee and my mother put ammonia on the wound. And it was the same smell that my brother had created in the palm of my hand. And I realized there was some… not magic, but mystery to be learned.”

Nye’s appearance at McMaster marks one of the largest and most expensive speaker events that McMaster has seen in recent memory.

Al Legault, director of Campus Events, said, “I’ve never planned anything this large in Burridge for a speaker. We’re used to doing concerts and hypnotists – things like that. Nothing of this [scale]. In this last 10 years at least this is [financially] the largest speaker we’ve had.”

He’s also probably the only speaker they’ve had who would answer birthday greetings with, “Another orbit of the sun! Check me out!”

To hear the extended interview with Bill Nye, tune in to 93.3 CFMU on Friday, Nov. 29 at 9:30 a.m. or visit CFMU’s website afterwards to hear the podcast. Bill Nye will speak at McMaster’s Burridge Gym this Sunday, Dec. 1 at 5 p.m. Tickets are available at Compass in MUSC.

Photo courtesy of NASA/GSFC/Bill Hrybyk (Flickr)

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