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A New Era Of Science Is Nye

When I was a lad, any guy in a bow tie and lab jacket might as well have had “major nerd” tattooed across his forehead.

Had I been forced to forfeit a hot summer day of baseball to talk about science with such a loser, well…

Let’s just say little Dougie would have behaved even uglier than usual.

Of course, this was eons before TV had Seattle-based Bill Nye the Science Guy telling kids that scientists are “way cool” and not nerdy.

“I watch his show all the time,” says Jesse Roberts, a 10-year-old Spokane boy. “I like the stuff he kind of teaches.”

Roberts was one of several hundred kids who mobbed the West Central Community Center Wednesday for a close encounter with one of television’s most unorthodox stars.

Filmed in downtown Seattle, the Science Guy is beamed across America and has become one of public television’s best-watched shows. (See it weekdays at 4:30 p.m. on channel 7 or 7:30 a.m. Sunday on channel 28.)

The Science Guy is a furious half-hour of music, sound effects and whiz-bang demonstrations. Disney’s Buena Vista company, the show’s heaviest backer, figures the Science Guy reaches some 1.8 million homes via commercial and public TV.

Nye is a lean athlete from years of long-distance biking. A shock of curly brown hair perches above his angular, expressive face.

The few skeptics he has whine that Nye’s quirky humor and affected attire - i.e., baby blue lab coats, white shirts and bow ties - reinforces the old notion that scientists are odd.

What counts to Nye, even more than this year’s Emmy nomination, is that kids love his work.

How can you not love a man willing to demonstrate gravity by bungee-jumping off a bridge? “Science Ruuuuules,” he screams on the way down.

How can you not respect a guy who doffs his duds and stands in a meat locker to prove colds come from germs and not from being cold?

“For the primary grades, he’s the best I’ve ever seen,” says Bill Waddell, a sixth-grade teacher who helped get the community center staff ready for Nye’s visit.

Seafirst Bank paid for Nye’s trip to Spokane. The bank also picked up the tab for an array of Pacific Science Center experiments that kids will work on throughout the summer.

The Science Guy is a gentleman, happy to shake hands with his young fans or mug with them for the cameras.

“I still haven’t had anyone come up to me and say: ‘I hate you and I hate your show,”’ says Nye. “I’m very gratified, but I’m not amazed.

“There’s really nothing more compelling than science.”

Here’s the best thing about the Science Guy: he’s a bonafide scientist and no phony-baloney actor.

To prove it, Nye shows me the periodic table of the elements he keeps tucked in his wallet.

There’s more. Nye actually posed for his high school senior picture while hugging an oscilloscope. “The oscilloscope is the window on physics,” he explains.

After graduating from Cornell, Nye moved to Seattle to design rudders for Boeing 747 jets. Then show biz began to beckon. Nye won a Steve Martin lookalike contest. He performed stand-up comedy and appeared on a low-budget Seattle TV comedy show.

From that humble genesis the Science Guy took form.

He’s not called the Science Guy for nothing. At least twice a day, Nye confesses, realizing the Earth actually revolves around the sun moves him deeply.

Think about it, he says. Here’s this speck of dust circling a hotter, but bigger speck in the middle of absolutely nowhere.

“It’s overwhelming,” he says with the reverence most of us use when discussing the Kennedy assassination. Musing on this while driving, “almost causes me to pull over.”

Think about this: Can America be so bad when a guy in a bow tie and lab jacket becomes a role model?

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

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