A spark of science: Bill Nye delivers lecture to crowd of thousands


Photo: Megan Wolff/Iowa State Daily

Bill Nye gives a speech at Stephens Auditorium on Friday, Sept. 21, as a the kickoff event for Engineer’s Week. The speech, titled “You Can Change the World,” told of how scientists and the average person can make a positive change in the world.

Alyssa Miller

It’s not often that a lecturer at Iowa State is greeted with a standing ovation from more than 2,700 audience members.

Fans of Bill Nye the Science Guy made their way to flood the grounds outside Stephens Auditorium on Friday evening while waiting to get in to hear a talk, titled “You Can Change the World,” from their childhood icon.

“I see these crowds often and it’s thrilling. It’s wonderful, but on some level, I don’t think I get it,” Nye said.

Some of those in attendance began lining up at the doors of Stephens Auditorium as early as 4 p.m. The event was so popular ushers had to turn students away because the venue had reached capacity.

Lauren Bubser, senior in marketing who expected to find limited seating at the free event, was among the first in line. 

“When I was younger, [Nye] got me excited about science,” she said. “Even if I’m not going into [science] he obviously sparked something.”

Nye took the stage at 7:15 p.m. and was greeted by a crowd so eager that one group of students ripped off their shirts to reveal the words “BILL NYE” painted across their chests and “SCIENCE” across their backs.

The nature of his talk was how people are contributing both negatively and positively to the environment, how we are using resources and what changes can be made to make the world a better place to live.

Nye’s presentation of his material was characteristically comic while still educational and very accessible.

“The goal of the show, [“Bill Nye the Science Guy,”] is to change the world,” Nye said. “I hope somebody in elementary school would watch this show, get excited about science, go to Iowa State, get a degree in science, and go out and invent some fabulous thing, discover some amazing thing, and work diligently to change the world in a positive, wonderful way because of his or her passion and

excitement for science. Make no small plans.”

Jerry Pierce, a former ISU professor of many subjects ranging from quantum physics to history, was also among the first to arrive.

“I used a lot of his stuff with my kids in school, even with my own kids that I was raising,” Pierce said. “When you show practicality in science, kids will embrace it. When you keep it so sterilized and far reached, it doesn’t work very well.”

Nye predicted society should be able to make some major scientific breakthroughs in the next few

decades.: “I think you all will be able to cure cancer or most cancers — I think you can do that in the next 25 years. … I would like you all to address climate change in a positive way.”

Nye also discussed the idea of a better transportation system with

the key being a “much more sophisticated energy, electricity, especially storage, distribution system for our developed world.”

Upon concluding his talk, Nye stayed on stage for nearly an additional hour to answer questions from the audience.

“One thing that was so nice about his show was how relatable he was on TV, and even if he was talking about something really complicated, he was usually really good about making it accessible to everybody,” said Lauren Gabel, senior in chemistry. “I think he did the same thing tonight. … [Nye] still had all of his old charm and humor, still very funny.”

Martese Hoffman, co-chairwoman for Engineers’ Week and senior in mechanical engineering, was pleased with Friday night’s turnout.

“I was really happy with Bill’s performance. He was really enthusiastic about Iowa State and emphasized that the question and answer was his favorite part,” Hoffman said. “Most speakers don’t do much research before they come here to speak, but Bill knew a lot about Iowa State.”

Getting Nye to lecture at Iowa State was something the Engineers’ Week staff had been trying to do for years. “We were able to get more grants from [the Government of the Student Body], so I think each year it’s going to get better,” Hoffman said. “Not only will it be for engineers, but for everyone else as well.” Hoffman also said Nye spoke with Pat Miller, manager of the Lectures Program, about possibly returning to speak at Iowa State in the future.

Before leaving the stage, Nye gave the audience one final thought: “With your brain you can, dare I say it, change the world.”