Bill Nye: Biography & Books

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Almost every kid in America knows the name Bill Nye the Science Guy, but how did this prolific scientist of your childhood get his start? In this lesson, you will learn about the life and books of Bill Nye.

Meet Bill Nye

Think about the last time you watched a video in class. You and your friends were probably very excited, because seriously: who doesn't love to watch movies? Odds are good that in your 12 years as a student, one of those videos was an episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy. How did this comedic scientist get his start as a television star? In this lesson, you will learn about the life and achievements of Bill Nye.

Young Bill Nye

Bill Nye was born in 1955 in Washington, D.C. During World War II, Nye's mom worked as a code-breaker for the government, and his dad served in the military. While overseas, his dad was captured and held in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan. The only way for Nye's father to tell time while in the camp was to look at sundials: non-mechanical devices that can be used to tell time by the position of the sun. This reliance on sundials led to a lifelong obsession with them for both Bill and his dad (more on that later). Nye's early education was just so-so; he attended Lafayette Elementary and Alice Deal Junior High School before receiving a partial scholarship for a private high school. After graduating from the Sidwell Friends School, he went off to study engineering at Cornell University in New York.

Early Career

After graduation, Bill Nye went to work for the Boeing company and helped design parts for airplanes. In fact, Nye actually designed a part that's still used on the Boeing 747...pretty cool, huh? While working for Boeing, Nye began to dabble in comedy. He entered and won a Steve Martin look-alike contest (you may recognize Steve Martin from his roles in movies like Father of the Bride and Cheaper by the Dozen). From there, Nye continued to work as an engineer during the day, but performed as a stand-up comedian by night.

Bill Nye
Bill Nye receiving the Public Service Award from the National Science Board

Eventually, Nye decided to leave engineering and pursue his a full-time comedy career; at the time, it was a career move that seemed pretty risky! He started writing and acting on a show called Almost Live; it was here that he earned his famous nickname: the Science Guy. Lucky for him, his nickname flowed so well with his real name!

Bill Nye the Science Guy

In 1992, Nye had an idea for a science education show aimed at kids. Instead of the dry, boring stuff found in textbooks, Nye wanted to create an engaging and interactive program that was informative and funny. A Seattle PBS station loved his idea and began producing Bill Nye the Science Guy. For five years, Nye not only starred in the show, but helped write and produce it. The show aired 100 episodes, each featuring a different science topic. Nye performed experiments, shared facts, and told jokes... and the people loved it. The show won 18 Emmys, and Nye personally won seven for his outstanding work.

Bill Nye and Rear Admiral Nevin Carr
Bill Nye and Chief of Naval Research Rear Admiral Nevin Carr

Bill Nye the Author

In addition to a stellar television and science career, Bill Nye is also an accomplished author. Many of his early books were written for students and covered various science topics, including Bill Nye the Science Guy's Great Big Book of Tiny Germs and Bill Nye the Science Guy's Great Big Dinosaur Dig. Nye has also written numerous comedic books like Comic History of the United States.

Most recently, Bill Nye published a serious book, entitled Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, that explains his views on the debate over evolution vs. creationism in the United States. In February 2014, Nye participated in a debate with Ken Ham, the founder and president of the Creation Museum in Kentucky. The debate was aired on television and discussed the topic, 'Is creation a viable model of origins?'

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