Bill Nye Finds Inspiration and Beauty, Even When It Stings

In Conversations, Features
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It’s beautiful to know the artists we admire truly care about what they do and want to find ways to impact the world with their unique talents. It can inspire and fuel our own curiosity and creativity.

In an interview with journalist and author Cal Fussman during Life is Beautiful’s Beautiful Moments podcast, Bill Nye, the famed “Science Guy” and childhood hero to many, told a story of the first time he was stimulated by a scientific discovery. Beginning the tale with a Carl Sagan quote, “When you’re in love, you want to tell the world,” Nye recalled a decades-old memory with such detail that you can feel the passion for his profession.

“I got stung by a bee, sitting on the porch, and it hurt,” he said. “I didn’t know what happened. I couldn’t understand it. This thing was fantastically painful. And my mother put ammonia on it. Ammonia is the principal ingredient, or the active ingredient, in Windex. Ammonia’s ideal for cleaning glass. But it’s poisonous, and on the bottle there’s a skull and crossbones—all very troubling. And I thought, ‘My mom’s trying to kill me.’ But then the pain went away. Now, why did the pain go away? Can I say Lewis acid? Do you remember anything about Lewis acids and bases? A bee sting, I think, is formic acid, and the ammonia has a hydroxyl group that’s a base. So it absorbs a proton, and the pain goes away, it becomes water. So this just utterly fascinated me.”

Nye’s fascination with bees led to a greater fascination with all things that fly, and eventually he went to work for Boeing in the late 1970s. It was in Seattle where he developed a stage persona, winning a Steve Martin look-alike contest, fine-tuning a stand-up comedy routine and adding the “Science Guy” moniker during segments at a local television station.

Fast-forward more than three decades, and Nye is using his gifts for connecting with an audience in Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World, a show in which he wants to take “a scientific point of view of socially important topics.”

We should all be so lucky to take what would normally be a traumatic incident for a child and turn it into a lifelong journey of discovery.

Listen to the complete Beautiful Moments podcast below. Want to listen on the go? Download the podcast here.