Bill Nye was gushing out in his sunny apartment in downtown Manhattan.
“I can’t do anything without thinking about science,” Nye said in early April, waving his arms to make his point. “Look at this scene. We’re on a Zoom call, which literally involves millions of transistors that someone figured out how to make. “
His voice grew louder and more excited as he continued, “Then they figured out TTL, transistor-transistor logic, so that we could make pictures and form words, and transmit them. on the electric Internet.
Dressed in his white short-sleeved shirt, transparent horn-rimmed glasses and a purple bow tie, Mr Nye, 65, still looked like the former mechanical engineer who became the favorite science teacher of the USA in the 1990s, as host of the PBS show “Bill Nye, the Scientist.”
Watched by millions of school children (and more than a few adults), Mr. Nye taught everything there was to know about science in elementary school and beyond, with wacky humor and wacky demonstrations . In an episode about static electricity, he wears a heavy metal rocking wig to show how negatively charged static electricity holds hair. (“Static electricity – it’s moving!” He said.)
Now, 23 years after recording the last show, Mr. Nye has found a new audience and a lucrative gig as a celebrity pitcher.
It started about a year ago when he posted a 12-second video on TikTok, just as the first stay-at-home orders were taking effect across the country. Sitting at his messy kitchen table, he seems to be studying something under a microscope.
“I’m happy at home, I’m just trying to save the world here,” he said, putting on his glasses. “You know, it’s not as easy as it sounds.” The clip has generated over 15 million views.
Many of the views were likely from millennials who grew up watching him distill complex science in short, fast-paced videos. “It was forced on me in college when the science teacher wouldn’t teach and they were rolling around on the TV on the cart,” said Ben Brainard, 25, a comedian in Orlando, Fla. “The song’s theme would stay stuck in our heads for the rest of our lives.
“I don’t think people have ever really stopped caring about Bill Nye,” Brainard added. “They kind of forgot about it in everyday life so far.
In another popular TikTok video, Mr. Nye demonstrated why we have to wash our hands with soap. “Soap is an amazing substance,” he says. Using a loop of string floating on water to represent a coronavirus, he shows what happens when the loop comes in contact with soap: “The molecule collapses. That’s why you have to wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! “
Mr. Nye believes his TikTok videos resonate with millennials in part because the videos are similar in format to the TV show. “On ‘The Science Guy’ we had a hilarious old adage that nothing should be longer than 49 seconds,” he said. “That was part of the charm – the quick presentation.
His fans, he added, were also keen to embrace science at a time when science was becoming politicized.
“We needed one of our role models from our youth to step in and say, these are the facts,” said Lauran Woolley, 26, a fifth-grade teacher in Canfield, Ohio, who follows Mr. Nye. on TikTok. “Sometimes people don’t want to listen to science.”
For Mr. Brainard, it was also a question of credibility. “It was around that time when no one knew what was going on, so they turned to the people they trusted, and for us it was Bill Nye,” he said. “I’ll do whatever Bill Nye tells me to do.”
This sense of trust has also prompted many brands to approach Mr. Nye to become their spokesperson, especially brands that want to consolidate their commitment to science and climate change in particular.
“Bill is a world-renowned science educator and conservationist, and we’re partnering with him to raise awareness,” said Dani Reiss, president of Canada Goose, the outerwear company, which has hired Mr. Nye in April to be a sustainability company. advise.
Mr Nye said he had been approached by three to four companies a month during the pandemic, but declined most offers. “I prefer to work with the brands I use,” he says. “Is this madness?”
One of those companies was Bombay Sapphire Gin, which may seem like an odd choice for someone associated with a children’s education show. But in 2014, Mr. Nye gave an interview with The Wall Street Journal, in which he revealed that his drink of choice was a Bombay Sapphire martini. “The Bombay Sappharans came after me after this,” Nye said. “I finally said I would do it this year.”
On April 9, he posted the first of three Bombay videos to his three million Instagram followers, a one-and-a-half-minute clip in which he touts the “perfect couple” of Bombay’s new canned gin and tonic. “I don’t want to shock anyone, but I do enjoy a martini,” he says.
Fan reactions have been overwhelmingly positive, but also mixed. “This confirms that Bill Nye’s target audience no longer needs to be licensed at the bar,” wrote one follower. Others called it a “sell-out” and questioned the health wisdom of promoting an alcoholic beverage.
Mr. Nye defends his work by stating something that most of us take for granted. “When I take that glass of gin and tonic with the bubbles, I study it,” he says. “Science gives power. It helps us appreciate the world around us.