October 17, 2001

Bill Nye '77 Entertains Crowd With Science

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An enthusiastic, diverse crowd of about 650 people gathered in the sold-out Statler Auditorium yesterday for a talk and presentation by visiting Prof. Bill Nye ’77.

Former star and head writer of the Emmy-award winning television program “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” Nye lectured while performing a variety of science experiments.

Energetically bounding onto stage, Nye reveled in the immediate applause. To begin the lecture, Nye playfully explained, “Science changed my life. Science made me talk like this.”

After briefly describing his early experiences with science, Nye launched into an experiment.

Holding up a balloon, he instructed the audience, “If you want to put pressure on a balloon, you don’t just say, ‘Hey man, fill up!'”

He blew up several balloons and let them go, simultaneously demonstrating the physics of thrust and enchanting the crowd of small children at the front of the stage.

While preparing the experiment, he thanked the college students for coming and expressed empathy for stress associated with exams. Recalling his college experience at Cornell, he articulated the common thoughts of many: “I can’t go home, I can’t go home, I wish I had time to chew my food!”

Continuing with the experiment, he utilized “the boiling flask of science with the big blue rubber bulb of science” to create a “cloud in a bottle.”

After demonstrating this principle on an even larger scale with a water jug, Nye explained that when water vapor is heated (such as by the sun), it condenses and combines with dust to become a cloud.

Nye’s next experiments focused on energy. He stated that humans are wasting an enormous amount of energy and said, “I want all of us to not just consider our effects on the Earth, but to make it [the Earth] better.”

With the help of a young, enthusiastic volunteer, Nye showed the large amount energy required to move a small car across the floor. He then described the recent advances in solar cells and fuel cells in cars.

Referring to fuel cells, Nye said, “You, all of us, are living in a time, if nothing doesn’t happen — that’s double negatives for kids — when we’ll be able to harness hydrogen power.”

He also addressed the environmental consequences of global warming if humans do not conserve energy, warning, “You guys may be living at a time where parts of Miami are diked off like parts of Holland.”

After a final experiment involving smoke rings, he ended the lecture with a few words of wisdom.

He recommended to “stop and take stock of the world around you” and said that, “when you look at the Earth, you may realize that this is a small place.”

Nye also said that we are specks “living on a speck orbiting a speck” in “the middle of nowhere.”

Despite this perspective, Nye believes greatly in the power of the individual. Ending the lecture, he encouraged everyone to “go forward — and dare I say it — change the world!”

The audience responded with heavy applauding and loud cheers.

Natasha Collins ’05 said she always watched Nye’s show as a child and that, “he was definitely how I remembered, kooky, zany, and I like that.”

Jason Seabury ’03 said, “It was definitely a worthwhile thing to do and I think a whole of people from all ages enjoyed it as much as I did.”

Ithaca resident Robert Bohdan ’79 praised Nye, saying, “He’s a scientific savant combined with the humor of Steve Allen” and that it was wonderful to “find someone with that wonderment of the world and that humor.”

Nye is a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 Professor, serving a three year term. He is currently an environmental consultant with General Motors.

Archived article by Shannon Brescher