Bill Nye, a scientist, comedian, author and inventor, will deliver the address at Lehigh’s 145th commencement ceremony on Monday, May 20. Nye is the executive director of The Planetary Society, the world’s large space interest organization, and was the host of three television series, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, on the Science Channel, PBS and Planet Green.
At the commencement ceremony, Nye will receive an honorary Doctor of Pedagogy degree.
“We are delighted that Bill Nye will deliver the commencement address this year,” said Lehigh President Alice Gast. “Bill Nye the Science Guy introduced a generation of students to the wonders of science, making it accessible, interesting and stimulating. Lehigh students know and admire him, and I am sure he will be an inspiring and memorable speaker.”
Nye replaces the previously announced speaker, astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is unable to deliver the address.
Nye is known for his innate ability to make highly complex scientific topics accessible. He discovered his talent for this in high school while tutoring fellow students in Washington, D.C. When he wasn’t sharing science, he said, he was disassembling and reassembling his bicycle to “see how it worked.”
His fascination with mechanics led him to Cornell University, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering and was introduced to the wonders of astronomy in a class taught by Carl Sagan, one of the founders of The Planetary Society. After graduation, he went to Seattle, where he worked for Boeing for three years.
Engineer by day, comic by night
In Seattle, Nye also launched a comedy career after winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest. Working as an engineer by day and a standup comedian by night, he perfected his technique and eventually decided to focus on entertainment. He quickly made the transition to comedy writer and performer on the Seattle-based comedy show Almost Live, where the lab coat and bow tie-wearing “Bill Nye the Science Guy” character was born.
Nye won seven national Emmy Awards for writing, performing and producing, and the program itself won 18 Emmys in five years. Nye also wrote several well-regarded children’s books about science, including the popular Bill Nye’s Great Big Book of Tiny Germs.
One of his more recent projects was hosting the Stuff Happens show on Planet Green, which encourages environmentally responsible choices. The program also features Nye’s friendly rivalry with neighbor, actor and environmental activist Ed Begley, with whom Nye competes for the smallest carbon footprint.
Nye continues to travel around the globe to promote space exploration and the EarthDial Project, which involves a set of sundials around the world that are visually reminiscent of the MarsDials sundials residing on Mars that Nye played an instrumental role in creating. Visitors to the project’s website can learn to build their own sundials to gain an understanding of geography, astronomy and society’s complex system of timekeeping.
Nye’s interest in sundials was the result of his father’s experience as a Japanese prisoner of war during World War II who lived without electricity for four years and developed a fascination with telling time by the position of the sun.
Through the EarthDial Project, Nye connected a Cornell scientist with a University of Washington astronomer who is also an expert on sundials. As a result, both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers are fitted with photometric calibration and inscribed with the sentiment: “To those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.”
Nye holds two patents on educational products—a magnifier made of water and an abacus that does arithmetic like a computer. He also has a patent pending on a device to help people learn to throw a baseball better and is in the process of developing an improved toe shoe for ballerinas that he hopes to patent.
He maintains a strong presence on social networking sites, communicating regularly with more than a million on Facebook and more than 700,000 followers on Twitter, posting commentary on current events on YouTube and offering a number of resources for students and educators on his website.