On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Why can’t I see the sun at night? What is a blobfish? Why do my feet stink?
Science has the answers! And no one explains science better than Bill Nye the Science Guy.
You may have seen him on the PBS show named after him, or his Netflix series, “Bill Nye Saves The World.” Or maybe you’ve caught his new podcast, “Science Rules!”
Next up, he’s on “Kojo For Kids.” Listen and call in with your most intriguing questions about our oceans, the universe or that moldy thing growing in the back of your refrigerator.
One more thing about Bill — he’s one of us, raised in Washington, D.C. We’ll find how growing up around here helped launch his career as the science guy.
This show is part of the “Kojo For Kids” series, a Kojo Nnamdi Show segment featuring guests of special interest to young listeners. Though Kojo has been on WAMU 88.5 for 20 years, this is the first time he has had the opportunity to reach out to an audience of kids, most of whom until recently had been in school during our live broadcast. We’re excited to hear from our youngest listeners! Join us!
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Bill Nye The Science Guy; @BillNye
KOJO NNAMDISo, I guess you probably figured out who's on the show today. Bill Nye the Science Guy is famous for bringing science to kids and adults in the most fun way possible. He hosted the “Bill Nye the Science Guy” TV show, and then “Bill Nye Saves the World” on Netflix. These days, he makes the “Science Rules with Bill Nye” podcast. What you may not know about Bill Nye is that he's a mechanical engineer, that he has several cool inventions to his name, and that he was born and raised right here in Washington, D.C. So, adults, you are welcome to listen, but because today's show is part of the Kojo for Kids series, we're taking calls from kids, only. Bill Nye, welcome.
BILL NYEGreetings, greetings. So, good to be on the show. Everybody be safe out there.
NNAMDIGreat to hear your voice. You are a Washingtonian. Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What schools did you go to?
NYEI grew up in Northwest. I went to Lafayette Elementary, then Alice Deal Junior High School. I'm a Viking, man.
NNAMDI(laugh) My sons also went to Alice Deal Junior High School. Tell us something...
NYESo, it used to be called junior high, now we call it...
NNAMDISure did. It's middle school, yeah.
NYE...middle school. And you look at the lintel, the marble or stone horizontal piece above the door, it still says junior high school. I was there a couple years ago. Man, it looks so nice. When I was there, it was (laugh) so worn out.
NNAMDIWell, tell us something about your life as a kid. Did you always like science? How else did you spend your time?
NYEOh, I've always loved science. So, my grandfather was a chemist, an organic chemist. And he -- I guess he was born, I guess -- he was born in North Carolina, and he taught at Duke for a while. And then he got a job in Baltimore, at Johns Hopkins teaching. And then he -- I think his best job was at company called Crown Cork and Seal, which is a Baltimore-based company. He had a patent on the adhesive, for the older listeners, (laugh) that held corks bottle caps.
NYEBut, that aside, my mom let me play with his glassware. Chemists from that era could blow their own glass. That was a skill that they had to get when they were in school, I guess. My nephew and my niece are both chemical engineers. And they don't really blow glass, but they use this extraordinary software that did not exist in my grandfather's time. It just shows you, things change.
NYEAnyway, both of my parents were very supportive of science, and I loved it since I was a kid. I was fascinated, like anybody, I was fascinated with airplanes and bicycles. I spent a lot of time in the summer watching bees. I was fascinated with bees, how they could fly, go back and forth, fill their pollen baskets and get back to the same flower. How do they do it? It's amazing.
NNAMDIWell, the other thing you loved as a kid growing up in Washington was the Washington Senators.
NYEYes. It's not cricket. Kojo, it's not cricket. It's a pretty good, you know, derivative.
NNAMDIHe remember all of my loves. The Washington Nationals did not exist when you were growing up here.
NYEYou can tell -- Kojo, I don't want to shock you. You have a little bit of an accent.
NNAMDI(laugh) You noticed, huh? How did you live -- now you live on the West Coast, so what baseball team do you root for?
NYEI still -- the Nationals are still my team. You can't help it. You just can't help it. However, my first job out of (word?) school was at Boeing in Seattle, so I like the Mariners. I mean, I love the Mariners, and Los Angeles. I go to Dodger games. I root for the Dodgers, sure. But when shove comes to push, it's all about the Nats.
NYEKeep in mind, everybody, that when I delivered the Washington Post as a young man, the Senators were called the Nats in the headlines of the Post, because that was the old, old name. So, the Nationals is a retro, charming, tip-of-the-hat-to-my-grandfather kind of name.
NNAMDIAll right. We have a lot of young people waiting to talk to you, so let me get to it. Let's start with Zoe, nine years old in Arlington, Virginia. Zoe, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ZOEWhy are some genes dominant and some genes recessive?
NYEWow. Wow, right out of the box.
NNAMDIRight out of the gate. (laugh)
NYEI think -- I'm not an expert on that, but I think the answer is they are. That is to say, the reason some dominate and some don't is their position on the DNA molecule, the deoxyribonucleic molecule. And the ones that dominate we identify as dominant, but the cause and effect is sort of the answer is the question. But I'm not an expert on this, Zoe. Maybe you can do more work on it.
NYEAnd here's something I would like, Zoe. The DNA module is very long. If you could unwind your own, it would be a meter long. It would be, you know, three feet long. And it's packed into every cell. And the word that scientists use is super-coiled. It's not just coiled. It's super-coiled. And I cannot help but wonder, when you have this molecule stacked up like this, wound so tightly like the coily cord of an old-style phone, doesn't one layer interact with another layer? Doesn't one turn of the coil interact with the turn of the coil next to it?
NYEIn other words, it's not just the sequence, not just how the beads are strung, but which bead is touching the bead above and below it. And I want you to figure that out and change the world. That is a great question, Zoe.
NNAMDIZoe, there you go. You have your task ahead of you. Thank you for calling. On now to Quentin, age 10, in Annapolis, Maryland. Hi, Quentin. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
QUENTINMy question is, how was Jupiter created?
NYEHow was Jupiter created? Is that your question?
NYEOkay. So, this is a great question, and people are very confident in the answer. And by people, I mean scientists who've studied this. And what happens if you jump up? You come back down, because the Earth has all this gravity, because it's big. Well, here's a strange and amazing thing. Not only is the Earth pulling you down, but you are ever, ever, ever so slightly pulling the earth up. And this is this gigantic, enormous insight that's generally attributed to Isaac Newton. If anybody else thought of it before that, they didn't write it down, and they weren't as influential as Newton.
NYEAnd so here's what it means. So, all this dust is in space. And even the dust has gravity, so the dust pulled itself together, because of gravity, over a long time. It was about 4.5 billion years ago. And think about this other strange thing, the dust isn't going to come together evenly. It won't be like packing snow into a snowball. Instead, there'll be something that uneven, or not the same in every direction about it.
NYEAnd so, what happens, and people have written computer programs to simulate this that are very compelling. I mean, there's no question this is what happened. The dust pulls itself together and starts to spin. And when it starts to spin it turns itself into a disk, a disk of spinning dust. And then, within that disk, formed these whirlpools. And the whirlpools become the planets. It's amazing. It's amazing.
NYEAnyway, so Jupiter is a planet so big, it almost turned into a star, but not quite. And it's just spectacular. It has so much gravity. It has all these storms on it. And this great red spot has been there for at least three centuries. There's been a storm on Jupiter for at least three centuries. It's just amazing. So, the dust pulls together by gravity. It's uneven, so it forms a disk, and whirlpools within the disk become planets. That was a great question.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Quentin. And, Bill, you mentioned earlier how you loved bees as a kid. Seven-year-old Zander has a question, I think, about beetles. Zander, it is now your turn. Go ahead, please.
ZANDERWhy does it take so long for worms to turn into beetles?
NYEWell, they've experimented for, well, I guess millions of years and found out that's the way that works best for them. And it's another one of these things where the ecosystem with all these living things is so fantastically complicated, that each species who's around with us today has evolved over all these billions of years, 3.7 billion years, what have you. And so the reason that they take so long is because they're not like you. They think -- if they asked themselves this question, they would think humans are weird. (laugh) This is the way they do it. And it works for them, and they fit in the ecosystem. That's another great -- God, who are these people, Kojo? (laugh) These are brilliant questions. This is great.
NNAMDIWell, one of them, Emerson, who is eight years old, has a question about a place that you're familiar with. Emerson, your turn.
EMERSONHello. What was your favorite thing about going to Lafayette?
NNAMDI(laugh) Do you go to Lafayette, Emerson?
NYEYes, I do.
NNAMDIOkay. Well, here's Bill Nye.
NYE(singing) Hail to our Lafayette, high on the hill. So, I'd say two things. I mean, I had great teachers but Mrs. McGonagall, whom I had for first and second grade, did this demonstration about an oasis, about how water can travel underground and then make its way to the surface under certain situations.
NYEAnd she also got me thinking about the ancient dinosaurs. She read from a great, big book that the reason the ancient dinosaurs went extinct was because they had small brains. And I remember her making just sort of an offhanded remark. She was thinking, you know, that doesn't seem like a very good reason to me. Anyway, we got to move on, (laugh) you know. But she made this offhanded remark about this hypothesis, this idea about what happened to the ancient dinosaurs that got me to thinking about it for decades, for 30 years.
NYEAnd then when I was out in the workforce, a grownup, paying taxes and working, people discovered that it was almost certainly an asteroid that finished off the ancient dinosaurs. Whatever else was going on with them, the last of them were finished off by an asteroid. And that was really something from Ms. McGonagall.
NYEAnd then the other guy was Mr. Lawrence, man, my sixth grade teacher at Lafayette. Oh, he was fantastic. He was fantastic. I used to just get up and just could hardly wait to get to school when I was in sixth grade. He had us doing algebra problems from his college text book, and he talked to us a lot about navigation. And the big thing that Mr. Lawrence had was this: he loved us. He wanted everybody to succeed.
NYEAnd when I was at Lafayette, I came back a few years ago, and I just had that same feeling. Your teachers at Lafayette want you to do well. Now, you have to hold up your end of the bargain. You have to behave well. You have to study. You have to pay attention. And when it comes to algebra, by the way, and math, it just takes practice. There's no way around it. You got to practice. But Lafayette was a great experience for me. I used to ride my bike there and lock it to the bike racks in the back when the weather was nice, which, you know, it often is in Washington.
NNAMDIEmerson, I hope Lafayette is being a great experience for you, too. And thank you very much for calling. Here's nine-year-old Ana in Silver Spring, Maryland. Ana, your turn.
ANAHi. I was wondering if the amount of salt in seawater affects the creatures that can live there.
NYEOh, man, it's the whole thing. Oh, you've hit the nail on the head. No, this is the great thing we living things on earth have to deal with all the time, is salt. So, you may have heard this word. It's a fantastic word, osmosis. And it has to do with the movement or the flow of chemicals. And if you haven't done this, I really encourage you to try this.
NYEYou soak an egg in vinegar for a day, day-and-a-half. And the shell will dissolve, and you'll be left with the egg that's just the membrane, just that thin, thin, thin skin. The egg will hold together, it'll hold its shape, but there's no shell. Then you put that egg in, let's say, really salty water. Put another one of those same eggs in another glass with, let's say, distilled water, or very clean water from the tap, from the sink. And you'll see how they behave, what happens.
NYEWhat amounts to the smaller molecules, which are just the pure water, they will flow across the egg, across the thin skin of the egg, into the egg, if the water is less salty than the inside of the egg. But the saltwater in the egg will flow out of the egg into the very salty water around it, because the smaller molecules squirt through the membrane, and the larger molecules stay on the other side. It's just amazing.
NYESo, you and I and chicken eggs and fish all have about the same amount of salt in our cells. And we, here on land, are constantly trying to keep the water that's inside us from just going out of us. That's why you've got to drink water during the day. And fish are constantly trying to keep the water inside of them from going out into the saltwater. It's amazing. They have all these systems for managing the salt. Seabirds have this special gland in what's equivalent of their nose that drives the salt out of their system. Managing the salt and water is a huge problem for all of us living things. But we've all solved it, everybody's here today. So, try the egg experiment either with saltwater, or you can also use corn syrup. The famous brand is Karo, corn syrup.
NNAMDIAnd good luck with that...
NYEYou'll get pretty much the same...
NNAMDI(overlapping) And good luck, Ana, with that experiment.
NYEAnd so I have one more thing.
NYEHold it, Ana, I've got one more thing for you, Ana. What we need for everybody on Earth is clean water. We need this for everyone in the world. And if you could find a way to take the salt out of seawater much more cheaply than we do it now, you would change the world. And the way we do it now, we pump it backwards through special filters. And we also use the word membrane to describe those. Or we boil it, so the salt stays down in the bottom of the pot, and the steam comes out without any salt in it. If you could solve this problem, you would change the world and improve the quality of life for everyone. Not only that, Ana, if you were the one who did it, you could get rich. Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha.
NNAMDI(laugh) Ana, thank you very much for your call, and go do that experiment. Here is Sahar, aged 11. Hi, Sahar.
NNAMDIHow are you?
SAHARI'm good, thank you.
NNAMDIDo you have a question for Bill Nye?
SAHARYes. I was wondering how birds produce bone marrow if their bones are hollow.
NYEOh, I didn't hear part of that. What's hollow?
SAHARA bird's bones are hollow...
SAHAR...so how do they produce bone marrow?
NYEOh, there's still some bone. It's just much more hollow than yours and mine. There's still bone cells. They're just put in a tube instead of a stick, if you follow me. It's amazing. And you know why birds generally have hollow bones, I mean, that's what we all think now. Because they have hollow bones, it enables them to be light enough weight to fly. And we followed -- we copied everything they did.
NYEIf you look at an airplane, it's hollow inside. And it's essentially a big, beautiful tube. So, we copied bird bones to make airplanes. And you're getting -- there's another fabulous word, the efficiency of structures. To make a structure strong and stiff, you have to distribute the material. You have to spread out the material of the structure.
NYEAnd you know this, too. You take a piece of paper, it flops around, flopping around. You roll the piece of paper into a tube, and it becomes quite stiff. You can, you know, put a book on top of it, if it's rolled into a tube, right. So, birds thought of that. Oh, wait, they didn't think of that. It happened and because the hollow bones worked better, those are the ones we see around us today.
NYEIt's quite a thing, everybody, when we ask about living things, whether it's you, me, fish, dolphins, mammals, spiders, everybody, we all have a common ancestor. We all apparently came from one type of organism 3.7 billion years ago. So, all of us living things on Earth are distant, distant, amazingly distant cousins. It's amazing.
NNAMDISahar happens to be a child of this broadcast. Her mom used to be the managing producer of this broadcast, but we're all working from home now, Sahar. How is your mom doing? I haven't seen her in weeks.
NNAMDIIs she behaving herself?
NNAMDIOkay. Then I trust your judgment, Sahar. Thank you so much for your call.
NYEWe don't want to have to come over there.
NYECan't come over there. You're going to have to straighten her out on your own.
NNAMDIExactly. So, here, now, is nine-year-old Lena in Great Falls, Virginia. Lena, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LENAI want to know, what do you think that we should be doing right now to keep safe?
NYEWell, everybody, this business of staying home, isolating, keeping ourselves separate is working. Because, apparently, this virus just is so -- you probably know the word contagious. When one person has the virus, he or she can give it to another person just really easily. It's surprising. It can travel through tiny, tiny droplets in the air. And the thing that we all do, we humans do all the time is we touch our faces. Our scratch our face, we scratch our -- we rub our nose, we rub our eyes, we stroke our chin. We do all these things. And so if the virus gets on our hands, it's very easy for it to get from our hands to our face. You'd be amazed at how often you touch your face. It amazes me, anyway.
NNAMDII've just begun to notice that myself.
NYESo, what we want to do is stay apart until we are able to develop a vaccine. Now, speaking of Alice Deal Junior High School -- now Alice Deal Middle School -- when I was four years old before, I went to kindergarten, I was in preschool up on the hill above Lafayette. We all went to Alice Deal to get the polio vaccine. And it was amazing, you guys.
NYESo, there was a summer before that, I remember, where we weren't allowed to go swimming. I mean, this is Washington, D.C. in the summer. In those days, very few people had air conditioners. The house I grew up in did not have air conditioning. It was hot, and you were sweaty all the time, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. We weren't allowed to go swimming, because it was found that kids in pools could give each other polio very easily.
NYEAnd so it was just an amazing thing when this vaccine was developed. So, what we want to do is stay apart, so that everybody who has the virus and lives through it, recovers, which almost everyone does, by the way -- almost everyone just gets really sick and then gets better.
NNAMDIWe're just about out of time, so...
NYEOh, yeah, sorry, sorry, sorry. So, stay apart until we get this virus to calm down, and then we'll all come out slowly. And a vaccine will be developed, and no one will ever have to get it again. But that's not for about two years. So, pay attention.
NYEThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us, Bill Nye.
NNAMDIKojo for Kids with Bill Nye was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about the coronavirus with Dr. Leana Wen was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, we'll hear from the superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools about whether his school district is finally ready to take on distance learning. Plus, restaurants across the region are adapting to a new normal, but how are their patrons adjusting? We'll talk to local restaurant owners to find out. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening, and stay safe. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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