Mediaplanet: What compelled you to pursue a career in science?

Bill Nye: I have been fascinated with nature and our place in it since I was very young — three years old or so. I believe it began when I spent countless hours watching bees. I was fascinated by their relatively large bodies be carried aloft by relatively small wings. I love science, but I became an engineer. We use science to solve problems and make things.

MP: You have obviously had a huge impact on any person who had the pleasure of watching Bill Nye the Science Guy as children. What was it that inspired you to promote the fun of science to a younger audience?

BN: In the 1980’s, I was working at an aerospace company, where managers nearly obsessed with turning a profit every quarter, every three months. You can do that if you’re making a mature product, like temperature sensors; but you cannot succeed in three months, when you’re trying to make an entirely new product. I thought it was a little crazy. It was contemporary with the Ford Pinto and Chevy Vega automobiles. They were symptomatic of US engineering becoming, in my young mind, mediocre. So, I decided to see if I could influence kids, in the hopes that twenty years thence we would have a new generation of optimistic engineers and managers, who wanted to dream mighty things. We’ll see how that turned out in the next 10 years; I imagine.

MP: There is a growing concern that science is not as inspiring or exciting as it once was; in your opinion, is there a reason for this concern? Is it warranted?

BN: The concern is absolutely warranted. If we were to invest a great deal more in the space program than we do right now, this problem would take care of itself. Meanwhile, the acronym STEM has become part of everyday vocabulary. We’ll see if it’s enough. We’ll see if having a lot of science students leads to innovation and economic competitiveness. It sure can’t hurt.

"We need to make our world more efficient so that we can provide a high standard of living to people everywhere."

MP: Your show Bill Nye the Science Guy was perfect for making science fun for young people. What tips would you have for those who are looking to create more stimulating STEM environments? 

BN: Goals akin to robotic competition and life science award programs are great. They exist largely in addition to the standard curriculum. Apparently, if were to invest just a little bit more in math education and get students started on algebra a little sooner than we do now, we could change the world. We’ll see.

MP: What are the positive, global, environmental impacts of STEM education?

BN: We have to look to scientists and especially engineers to address climate change and the steady increase in the world’s human population. We need big ideas that are technically feasible. The keys to the future will be new ideas and innovations that don’t have people just consuming less of the Earth’s resources, but providing for more of us with less. We need to make our world more efficient so that we can provide a high standard of living to people everywhere. We need scientists and engineers to save the world… save the world for us, for us humans. 

MP: What does the future of North America look like with or without a population that has strong STEM education?

BN: Without new generations of scientists and engineers, the US, Canada, and Mexico will fall behind other nations that do graduate engineers and scientists, who then go on to innovate and sell products to us rather than the other way around. We need the developed world to lead rather than get outcompeted. When it comes to climate change, leadership would  or will avoid decades of inaction.