April 2, 2003

Bill Nye '77 Delivers Talk at Sciencenter

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Yesterday afternoon, Bill Nye “The Science Guy” ’77 gave a free talk to elementary and middle school children at the Sciencenter in Ithaca. The demonstration included various scientific experiments incorporating audience participation and covered topics including his work on the Mars Rover, his relationship with the late astronomer and Cornell professor Carl Sagan and the fun of science.

Nye gave the talk in honor of a new wing of the Sciencenter that opened in January, an improvement to the original building for which he helped raise funds as honorary co-chair of the campaign.

Nye said that seeing the newly constructed facility was “so cool … I’m happy to feel that the floor is stiff.”

Nye was intimately involved in the project.

“He actually helped with the flooring of the lobby and the amphitheater,” said Melissa Gattine, public relations manager of the Sciencenter.

Gattine was most excited about the new 100-seat amphitheater.

“We haven’t had a space like this before, and this gives us an opportunity to have lecturers and guest speakers.”

Nye braved a minor hailstorm outdoors to begin his talk with a presentation about gravity. Gattine said they held this portion of the show “outdoors so everybody [could] see him, then bring him back in,” referring to the approximately 20 children who could not fit into the amphitheater and had to watch the remainder on closed-circuit television in an overflow room. According to Gattine, 100 tickets sold within 95 minutes of their first availability on March 26.

Nye spent a good portion of time discussing his relationship with Sagan, who taught him while he was a student at Cornell. He praised Sagan for his great abilities as a teacher.

“Teachers influence you more than anybody,” Nye said. “You’ll have better teachers than you’ll ever have doctors or lawyers.”

His praise for teachers prefaced a few remarks concerning the necessity of funding for NASA’s space program.

Nye stated that people often tell him that “we should raise teacher salaries before we go to Mars.”

“You don’t choose between going to Mars and raising teacher salaries,” Nye said in response. “You have to do everything all at once.”

The space program is especially dear to Nye, who worked on the first Mars Rover. Nye asserted that if funding is cut from the space program, “you lose your spirit as a culture.” He pointed to instances of finding various forms of life on the bottom of the ocean that were later used to fight illness.

“I bet you we will learn something we never thought of,” he said in reference to landing on Mars.

There are two new missions to Mars scheduled for May 30 and June 25.

Nye emphasized the fun of science throughout the talk and actively engaged the audience by asking them questions and having them help with experiments.

“I liked when he burned the can,” said Ithaca resident Gabi Blanton, 8, referring to an experiment in which Nye demonstrated the power of heat during a question-and-answer period that followed the presentation.

Nye stayed afterward to sign autographs and take pictures with the children.

“It’s very exciting to be back here in Ithaca,” he said.

Nye is most famous for his work on the Emmy Award-winning show Bill Nye the Science Guy and is a Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of ’56 University Professor.

Archived article by James Marceda