Bill Nye the Science Guy visits SLU

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Bill Nye the Science Guy visits SLU

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From childhood TV staple to cultural commentator

At 5:15 p.m., students sat cross-legged outside the doors of the Wool Ballroom – an unusual sight. At 6:30 p.m., those same students stood pressed against the doors, engulfed by a crowd of hundreds of students and faculty members, all eagerly anticipating the speaker that hey were about to hear. The doors opened and the patrons passed through like water, quickly getting to their seats in the front row. The speaker who graced their presence minutes later was not a professional athlete, and he was not a movie actor. He was Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Bill Nye is a science educator and a widely recognized figure to the children of the 1990s. He hosted one hundred, half-hour episodes of the PBS Kids program, “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” from 1993 to 1998. Tall and slender with his signature bowtie, Nye energetically performed science experiments and taught viewers about science in simple terms. Complete with a goofy theme song and sound effects, Nye captured the imaginations of a generation. On Wednesday, Oct. 28, he visited Saint Louis University to continue his mission.

I was able to speak to Nye before his presentation. We talked about climate change, Mars and other topics. “We want you to take the environment into account when you vote,” he said. “This election, 2016, is a chance to maybe control the future of the earth for humankind.” When asked about solutions, he said, “Change could keep going, but it’s up to you.”

Nye started his talk by discussing a picture, the iconic Apollo 8 “Earthrise” photo, and how it changed the way we think about the world. He proceeded to tell a story of how his father, a veteran in World War II, met his mother, a code-breaker. His father’s eccentric interest in sundials motivated Nye to suggest in a NASA meeting that sundials should be included on Mars rovers, an idea which NASA accepted. His funny story transitioned cleanly into a discussion of Mars and its thin atmosphere, leading him to talk about earth’s atmosphere and climate change – all of which showcased his ability to communicate. He then went on to address the great scientific issues of the era.

“Change the world.” Nye said this countless times during his presentation, often in an action hero tone.

He talked extensively about climate change, its many deniers, and what he thinks should be done to address the issue. He advocates adopting a “carbon fee” that requires companies to pay a fee on their carbon dioxide output, a system already established in Alaska.

“Don’t say tax,” he said. “People freak out.” This fee would eventually discourage the burning of fossil fuels and raise the economic investment in renewable energy, helping to prevent climate change.

“This thing exists, and it will find you,” he said humorously of the IRS’s role with the fee.

Nye addressed big issues, and he kept the audience’s attention by intertwining science and silliness.

As CEO of the Planetary Society, Nye spoke enthusiastically about space exploration. He discussed the recent NASA discovery that water flows annually on Mars, as well as its implications.

He believes that water on Mars makes the red planet a much greater candidate to have harbored life at some point.

“It would change the way we think about what it means to be a living thing,” he said.

“We don’t know where it would lead, but it would be profound.”

After an hour and a half, the presentation screen changed to a picture of the St. Louis University Billiken in a starry landscape. Nye excitedly exclaimed, “Go Billikens! Change the world!”

Students of Saint Louis University won’t soon forget Bill Nye the Science Guy. They will carry his message, remembering that faint echo as they have their faces glued to a textbook: “Change the world!”