The level of hysteria and fandom was as viscous as sodium silicate; the roar of the room louder than that of a Boeing 747 engine. People climbing over walls and through windows, and not even to make a horribly ad nauseastic Antoine Dodson reference. You would think that some sort of celebrity was talking about Sudan or directing a movie about necrophilia. Until you noticed all the bowties.
Yes, thanks to the Professor Scott Hubbard and the Stanford AIAA, Stanford students congregated upon Building 200 on Wednesday, regardless of major or area of academic interest, to catch an impromptu Q&A session with the Sultan of Science himself: Bill Nye the Science Guy.
I arrived 10 minutes early to a packed lecture hall. The atmosphere of the room tasted of nostalgia and childhood memories. Or that might have been sweat. It was probably sweat. Regardless, there was a buttload of people there; I saw a TA try (in vain) to hide from a group of his students, all of whom had apparently skipped class to be at the talk. The number of people in the hallways would have left the fire marshal, well, inflamed. They, like me, couldn’t have passed up a chance to see the man who single-handedly did what no marshmallow-and-toothpick model could: make science cool. With no room to sit, and little more to stand, people tried to take up every square centimeter of available space, waiting patiently, albeit a little crampedly.
And what a wait it was. Excited chants (a la the Bill Nye theme song) of “Bill! Bill! Bill!” soon turned to “Bill. Bill? Bill. . ?” As the start time came and went, murmurs of doubt wended through the crowded lecture hall. Hypotheses and suppositions spread at 0.99c:
“Is this a psych experiment to see how long people will wait in one room?”
“This has got to be a prank. Who’s even sponsoring this thing?”
“You really think I can pull off the bowtie?”
For 15 minutes, the audience grew more and more restless, wanting, willing him to emerge from any of the 3 severely congested doorways.
Finally, he entered, his presence preceded only by a sharp intake of breath, raucous applause, and a text from my friend who was unfortunate (fortunate?) enough to be standing outside the lecture hall because of the spillover: “I TOUCHED HIM MY LIFE IS COMPLETE.”
I feel dirty for ever doubting him.
Dressed in his iconic bowtie (the equally-iconic lab coat tragically swapped out for a smart suit jacket), Nye fielded questions Johnny-Carson-like (“How Johnny-Carson-like was he. . .?”) from a host of eager fans: questions about the show, what he’s been doing since then and a bunch of other aerospace engineer-y things. Nye is currently serving as the Executive Director of The Planetary Society, which, among other things, gets kids excited about science and space (sound familiar?). In true Nye-fashion, I learned without expecting to; his answers somehow integrated how bumblebees are able to fly, the nuclear propulsion mechanism of a jetpack, and his favorite color.
Other cool facts:
- Nye LOVES swing dancing (now that he’s had a couple lessons under his belt).
- He’ll never say what his favorite episode is, but admits that flying in the F18 Hornet with the Blue Angels was pretty cool.
- Most important issue facing humanity? Climate change. No hesitation.
- Shooting the spinning head thing for the intro scene to his show made him feel pretty sick (he actually sat in an office chair and spun around!). It also looks pretty sick.
- He can’t tie a bowtie while looking in the mirror.
- He got more excited about Lightsail than he did about the Coupa he sipped (read: VERY excited)
- Peep more Bill Nye quotes here.
And just like that, the hour was up. Nye’s final exhortation: be responsible for your actions, and leave the world a better place than when you found it. So go. Move it. He’s the one who taught you about momentum in the first place. Listen to the man. And in true Nye-fashion, you’ll learn without expecting to. Just like the good old days.
Props to Samir Junnarkar for contributing pictures, notes, and general awesomeness to this article. You rock.