Hey Bill Nye! What's Your Fondest Memory of Carl Sagan?

Science makes the heart grow fonder. Want proof? Just watch Bill Nye as he remembers time spent with the legendary cosmologist Carl Sagan.

Wesley: Hello Bill Nye the science guy. I am a guy, a YouTuber named Wesley and I wanted to ask you,since Carl Sagan was your mentor if I’m not mistaken, what is your fondest memory with your mentor, Carl Sagan? Take care and have a good day.

Bill Nye: So, my fondest memory with Carl Sagan—the fondest might be different from the most important. The fondest memory is: we were in class in the spring of 1977, just a few months before the Voyager spacecrafts were launched in August of that year. And these are the spacecrafts that have the golden disk, the record, phonograph record mounted on the side of them with the presumption that an alien civilization will find this, decode the resonance of the hydrogen atom binary symbology and figure out how to play a phonograph record from Earth at the right speed. It’s an extraordinary idea but it was cool. It was inspirational. It brought out the best in a lot of us. And Carl Sagan said, “What rock and roll song should we put on?” And he said, “We’re considering Roll Over Beethoven by Chuck Berry. And everybody said “No, Professor Sagan, no, not ‘Roll Over’. It’s a fine song but the song you want is Johnny B. Goode. Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry.” And so that is the song that is on the record, and that is a fond memory.

I may have led the charge, but I was in – my older sister listened to that music. She was from that time, of doo-wop and the beginnings of rock and roll. So I was very familiar with Chuck Berry and I thought “That’s great.” And so he changed it. Chuck Berry, Johnny B. Goode is the one that’s flying out into space on two spacecraft. 

Than the most important memory I had with Carl Sagan, there’s no question—it was ten years later. I went to my college reunion in 1987 and I arranged with Carl Sagan’s assistant to spend about five minutes with him, maybe it was ten minutes which was a big – he was a superstar by then. He had done Cosmos. He was being asked to speak all the time. He had written these great books, award-winning books. And I asked him, I wanted to do this kids’ show about science, “What should I do? I’ve been doing demonstrations about bridges—“ and he says, “No, no, no. Don’t do engineering. Do science.” And then he said, “Kids resonate to pure science.” That was the verb he used – resonate. And that really stuck with me. 

So if you ever watch the old Bill Nye The Science Guy shows we did our best to use, to show you pure science rather than technology. And the show we did about computers (which is nominally a show about technology) I did my best to focus on the big ideas: switches and binary and commands that take place without a human having to sit there and tap the button. 

So that meeting with Carl Sagan in the end of May 1987 changed my life. 

So the fondest memory was Johnny B. Goode. The most important one was resonate to science.

 

When Bill Nye was studying engineering at Cornell University, he took astronomy under none other than Carl Sagan. In the past, Nye has said that Sagan gave his lectures just as he presented the iconic television series Cosmos, and as an aspiring science educator himself, Nye was hugely inspired. So what are his fondest memories of the legendary cosmologist? There are two: one is Nye's favorite — where he convinced Sagan to make a monumental music choice regarding the 1977 Voyager golden record — and the other is his most important, when Sagan put him on the path to success with advice that formed the core of the Bill Nye the Science Guy show.


Bill Nye's most recent book is Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World.

Under what conditions are we most creative?

While we might not love the idea of deadlines, they can be cause for some of our greatest creative work.

Videos
  • Creative individuals produce better work when there's a deadline involved, says media mogul Tina Brown.
  • To extract great work, you shouldn't have the option to escape it. Deadlines add a level of pressure that makes for better results.
  • In Brown's opinion, some of the best journalistic work was done in the period after 9/11. The combination of subject matter, content, and passion rallied creatives to put forth incredible coverage.
Keep reading Show less

Hints of the 4th dimension have been detected by physicists

What would it be like to experience the 4th dimension?

Two different experiments show hints of a 4th spatial dimension. Credit: Zilberberg Group / ETH Zürich
Technology & Innovation

Physicists have understood at least theoretically, that there may be higher dimensions, besides our normal three. The first clue came in 1905 when Einstein developed his theory of special relativity. Of course, by dimensions we’re talking about length, width, and height. Generally speaking, when we talk about a fourth dimension, it’s considered space-time. But here, physicists mean a spatial dimension beyond the normal three, not a parallel universe, as such dimensions are mistaken for in popular sci-fi shows.

Keep reading Show less

Energy-harvesting design aims to turn Wi-Fi signals into usable power

Device for harnessing terahertz radiation might enable self-powering implants, cellphones, other portable electronics.

YAMIL LAGE/AFP via Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
Any device that sends out a Wi-Fi signal also emits terahertz waves — electromagnetic waves with a frequency somewhere between microwaves and infrared light.
Keep reading Show less