The Science Guy can't sit still

Profile: Bill Nye writes books, designs toys and thinks up inventions - all for the cause of science.

Family Matters

November 07, 1999|By Kathryn McKenzie Nichols | Kathryn McKenzie Nichols,Knight Ridder/Tribune

Bill Nye the Science Guy, for all his reputation as a funnyman, is quite serious when he talks about something near and dear to his heart.

We're talking toys -- gyroscopes, to be exact.

"It's got to be durable," Nye expounded. "It's got to be built so the spindle never jumps out of the cage. That's what I used to hate when I was a kid."

Nye's exacting standards have now been applied to a new line of toys, one of which is Bill Nye's Extreme Gyro. The gyroscope -- sort of a metallic top that, when spinning, can do nifty tricks -- is made by Tedco, the same Ohio company that's been making gyroscopes since 1917.

But Nye's version is new and improved, including clear and understandable instructions that the Science Guy himself wrote.

Now that's attention to detail.

You wouldn't think the 43-year-old Nye, the creator of TV's "Bill Nye the Science Guy," would have time for such things.

But the Emmy Award winner has managed to add on not only a toy line, but also a new book, "Bill Nye's Big Blue Ocean," to his list of responsibilities.

That's the toughest part about being Bill Nye -- being in demand.

"Input management" is how he puts it.

"The show has been so popular that now I have to pay people who handle requests for my time," he said.

Nye's mission has really been a simple one -- to show people how much fun real science can be. He blended an oddly diverse background into "Bill Nye the Science Guy," which debuted on PBS seven years ago.

The show is no longer producing new segments, but continues to be shown in syndication.

Nye's fast-paced, often hilarious "Science Guy" show introduced millions of kids -- and their parents -- to everything from physics principles to human impact on the environment.

"There's nothing funnier than physics," Nye said. "Actually, we do work really hard on the jokes."

While growing up in Washington, young Bill became fascinated with how things work, leading him eventually to Cornell University and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. After graduation, he headed for Seattle to work as an engineer at Boeing.

But Nye, anything but a buttoned-down pocket-protector kind of guy, had a yen to be funny. So he did Boeing by day and stand-up comedy at night.

Eventually, he segued into a fortuitous combination of both science and comedy as Bill Nye the Science Guy, performing and writing on Seattle's KING-TV for a late-night ensemble comedy show.

He created a pilot for a local PBS station, and Disney became a co-producer in 1993. After national PBS picked up "Bill Nye the Science Guy," his popularity spread exponentially.

Nye has also been seen in the "60 Seconds of Science" segments on the Disney Channel, and has a Web site, as you might guess: www.nyelabs.com.

Now Nye is off to a variety of new projects, such as being the spokesman for the digital TV network Noggin, which has purchased cable-exclusive rights to the 100 "Science Guy" episodes. Nye is developing content for both the network and its Web site.

Outside the Science Guy realm, he is also an inventor: Nye recently was issued a patent on a collapsible, water-filled magnifying glass. He also is working on an out-of-this-world project with NASA and several universities, designing and building the first sundial to land on Mars.

Oh, and then there are the toys and the books.

The other toy in the Nye line is Bill Nye's Discovery Scope of Science, a magnifying device to bring bugs, leaves, rocks and other items into closer focus. More items in the toy line are planned.

He's also the author of "Bill Nye the Science Guy's Big Blast of Science," an introductory science text from Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., and "Bill Nye the Science Guy's Please Consider the Following" from Disney Press.

But he's thrilled with his latest, "Big Blue Ocean" (Hyperion, $15.99, for ages 7 to 10), which hit bookstore shelves recently. "It's the best book of the three I've done," he said.

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