LAURIE ROBINSON: I'm Laurie Robinson. And I'm a member of the class of 1977, which is back--
Our class is back for its 35th reunion. And we're proud to be sponsoring this lecture. I'm truly honored to introduce our speaker, Bill Nye, who is also a member of the class of 1977. Bill is a man with a mission to help people everywhere understand and appreciate the science that makes our world work. He's a scientist, engineer, comedian, author, and inventor, who has been making signs entertaining and accessible for most of his life.
I promise I'll leave you 10 minutes or so.
After graduating from Cornell with a degree in mechanical engineering, he went to work as an engineer at Boeing in Seattle. It was in Seattle that he won a Steve Martin look-like contest-- I still don't get that--
--and began a career of combining his love of comedy with science. This is where Bill Nye the Science Guy was born. The show, Bill Nye the Science Guy eventually won 18 Emmys in five years. Eight of those-- he says seven, but the web says eight, so I'm going with that-- were awarded to Bill personally for writing, performing, and producing. Today, tapes of the show, or more likely CDs, are shown in thousands of classrooms around the country, which is why he is not only recognized by the twenty and thirty somethings-- and like me, their parents-- who watched it as it aired, but by hundreds of thousands of young children and science teachers who have integrated his program into their curricula.
In addition, he is host and writer of the 100 Greatest Discoveries, The Eyes of Nye, Stuff Happens, Solving for X, and has written five children's books about science. Today, Bill is the executive director of the Planetary Society, the largest world's non-governmental space interest organization. Bill holds honorary degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Goucher College, and Johns Hopkins, and is a popular commencement speaker. More recently, he was the 2012 winner of the Ralph Coates Roe medal from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, which recognizes an outstanding contribution toward a better public understanding and appreciation of the engineers' worth to contemporary society.
Bill has been especially gracious with his time, talent, and treasures to our alma mater. He has served as a Frank HT Rhodes visiting professor, returning often to campus to teach. He's still a frequent visitor to campus, where he continues to enchant members of the Cornell and greater Ithaca communities. He generously provided the funds for and designed a clock for the facade of Rhodes Hall, which he will tell you more about in a minute.
As a friend, I can tell you that what you see is what you get. Bill is so much more than a TV personality. His love and desire to share what he calls, "The passion, beauty, and joy of science" is genuine. He will delight a young child at the next table in a restaurant by conducting a science experiment with whatever's at hand. When sharing tea with friends, he will marvel at the way the tea pours out of a teapot, analyzing why it curves around the lip of the spout and doesn't shoot straight out.
He lives a life that respects our earth's beauty and its precious resources, riding his bike on errands and driving his electric car for longer distances. He grows his own produce organically, powers his house with solar energy, and was probably the first guy I know to decorate his home with LED Christmas lights.
And anyone who was in the tents last night-- how many of you were in the tents last night?
--saw that he is fun and fun-loving, pausing from his high energy dance routine-- and that was after a 100-mile ride around the lake on a bike-- to pose for a picture with an admirer or give them a hug. Please join me in welcoming Bill Nye back to Cornell.
BILL NYE: Thank you, Laurie.
LAURIE ROBINSON: [INAUDIBLE]
BILL NYE: Oh.
Wow, wow. Hey-- thank you. Wow!
Wow, wow, I haven't even started yet, This-- boy, this better be good.
SPEAKER 1: We need to turn your mic on.
BILL NYE: We need to turn the mic on. So do I do that?
SPEAKER 1: Yes.
BILL NYE: It's a little-- little Steve Martin derivative bit. There we are, hi, greetings.
I was very excited about this until just a couple of minutes ago.
Now one of you, one of you, a young person, came up to me and said, is Bill Nye your real name?
I said, well, it's William Nye.
The student said, well why did you change it?
Wow, I am not afraid of the future. So I went to Cornell. My name is-- just to fill you in-- Bill Nye.
And on the stuff, they give Bill Nye, '77. I just want to clarify. I know many of you are looking a little surprised. Yes, it was 1977.
You might think, maybe it was 18-- no, it was 1977. And so, people say to me, Bill Nye, what are you doing anymore? And that's a good question.
So I took a day job. And for those you that have them, I really-- I don't know how you do it.
It really cuts into your time.
It's crazy. I am now executive director of the Planetary Society. This is an organization started by three guys-- Bruce Murray, who was the head of the Jet Propulsion Lab in the 1970s, during the disco era, for those of you who were in the tent last night. We had disco inferno. We did, disco inferno. It was burning hot. It was rising to the top.
So when my spark-- strikes hot. So then Lou Friedman, who was a NASA manager, and Carl Sagan.
So what I did this year, I made a deal with Toshiba, to help to fund our new educational effort. And along that line, we did eight videos. And probably a few of you have seen them. But here, I'll show you one.
This is dispelling an old myth-- Carl Sagan, as you may recall, was a big skeptic, always trying to dispel myths. And this one's about how much of your brain you use. Do we have audio?
Now they were designed to work in Times Square without audio. But we'll try backing it up. You think it's going to be on now?
Yeah, now, everybody, watch your ears, which is euphemistic. How can you watch your ear? With a mirror, with a mirror, I guess. You think?
See, it's not good when they're not-- they don't have that confidence. Just walk up, oh, well, it's this one. Oh, I see--
And this-- you know, I'm a mechanical engineer. I see a few classmates here. It's EEs, it's electrical engineers.
How complicated can we make it? Just how many layers can we provide? You ready? 3, 2, 1-- Oh, 3, 2, 1--
Same jokes. You may remember this joke from a couple of minutes ago.
Here we go, people. One more, 3, 2, 1. Well, it was designed to work in Times Square with no audio. This is why I so seldom use audio. But he's asking the question-- Toshiba and the Planetary Society present, consider the following, which many of you may recall. And then do we only use 10% of our brains? And I'm not talking about my old boss, this is overall.
So that's Pete the mouse. And here I'm talking things over with Pete. There's a mouse's brain, it's a human brain.
And then this is hilarious. This is my old boss's brain.
So I chat, I discuss this with Pete briefly. And he feels that he's using his brain all the time. And the myth is that we use 10% of our brain.
So apparently researchers, back in the day, would scoop out rabbit brains and mice brains. And probably some of you here did it, I mean in biology, life science, veterinary. And then they would find that the mouse could still run OK. So they concluded that 90% of the brain didn't do anything.
But then here, this is a scan of my brain, given to me by Johns Hopkins. It's a scan of my brain on a vase, a vase for flowers.
Now not everybody has one. It really is. So then I say right now I'm moving my hands and worming fords. And then I correct myself and say, forming words. And that part's really funny.
Then I show, I look at this picture and say, that's a brain. And then I show the same picture to Pete, and he's reluctant to participate. And I'm just trying to get him just to, Pete, come on, just this. Come on, we're old friends and so on. And look how embarrassed I am.
But then I say thank you for joining me on Consider the Following. And then I'm still trying to get Pete. See, he walked over there.
That's a piece of cheese. He was very happy with it. Sorry you couldn't hear it. But just imagine you're in Times Square, and it was every bit as compelling.
Sorry. So let's see. Now really, everybody, consider the following. If we had a thought experiment-- wait, I'm going to press, I'm hopeful, yes.
If we had a thought experiment where you get to sit in a different seat of a major football stadium every day of your life-- you get to sit in a different seat. So then you move over one seat every day, one seat. After a while, you move down one seat. This is a little game.
If you lived-- if things go pretty well for you and you live to be 82 years old, you will go through 30,000 days-- 82 and seven weeks. It depends on leap years how exactly that works out. 30,000 days.
If you sat in a different seat every day, you would not even go half way around. I know, it sucks.
I know. Not even halfway around. And when I come to my reunion, this is my 35th reunion, which as anyone knows, is physically impossible. Because that means that I am more than 35 years old.
But I couldn't possibly be. I was in college here, young people, I was in college here, was it summer before last? I think it was summer before-- oh, no, it was 35! 35 summers before last, yeah, that's right.
It really is shocking. And so when I look around and see all the students, all the young people, I'm really excited. Because you really are the future. And I'm just honored that you guys took so much time to watch the old show. It's very nice.
This is my parents. Actually it's a picture of my parents.
They weren't that big.
When I look at this picture, like it's not that crazy. My father went to Johns Hopkins and my mother went to Goucher College. Back when they had such things, it was the sister school to Hopkins. Now they let boys in, so it's nothing like it once was.
But I look at this picture. The t-shirts haven't changed. You go into the Hopkins bookstore, it's the same t-shirt. And the Cornell shirts really haven't-- we didn't have the tie-dyes that were so nice that you guys have.
Then the other shirts, like the iron-on letters, young people-- it was this new thing. It was like this crazy new thing.
And I look at this picture and I hope-- I'm sure all of you have gone through this thing where you're troubled, troubled by the idea that your parents-- can we say this on camera? They hooked up, can we say that?
It's unsettling. It's unsettling. But when I look at this picture, it doesn't seem that unreasonable to me.
So my father went to law school. And this is really surprising. He didn't like it.
So he had this great idea. He got a job on Wake Island. Now if you don't know Wake Island, Wake Island's in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You go to Hawaii, and you go about that far again, and you're at Wake Island.
And you really have to pay attention. Wake Island, you can miss it very easily. But it's big enough to build an airstrip. And so my father was a civilian working for the US Navy. And he was the college kid, so he was the quartermaster. He was doing the accounting.
And he was in charge of refueling, for example, this Boeing Clipper seaplane. And it is interesting to note, my fellow mechanical engineers and historians, not a single one of these planes lived through the war. There's pieces of them. But they-- I guess landing is hard on them.
And let's see, what professors do-- I'll take this and go like this. And that's--
That's supposed to help you, supposed to give you some insight. But seriously.
There's a strut right there that wasn't on the original plane, because they used to fall apart. So anyway, my dad would refuel these planes. Now this picture is from a book written by the Naval commander who was on Wake Island. And as near as anybody can tell, this is my dad right there. There's Ned Nye.
And he says it was the greatest job. They worked all summer. It was always warm, didn't wear a shirt, go swimming whenever they wanted. They'd watch movies outdoors in the rain. It was so warm, it was all just so great.
But that changed, for those of you familiar with the year 1941, this is a newspaper that my grandmother kept, my father's mother. And it's about Pearl Harbor.
So on December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor was bombed. And so was Wake Island, along with many other Pacific Rim targets. So this great job kind of sucked.
My dad said-- so it's interesting, to me, a very cool little piece of history. So the guys on Wake Island fought back for two weeks. They shot down at least two Japanese military bombers every day for a couple of weeks.
But eventually, the Japanese Navy showed up with this flotilla. My dad wrote in his book, "Saddest day of my life." They were captured on Christmas Eve, 1941.
But anyway, they had disappeared. It's an interesting thing. My mother was telling me these guys-- they didn't have the internet, people. They didn't have Facebook or Twitter.
And I know what you're thinking, the young people. They didn't have the internet, what did they do all day?
But these guys were just taken away. Nobody knew what happened to them. And young people, you will hear your parents-- grandparents, perhaps-- complain about the good old days.
We took things seriously. These kids today, nobody is serious about-- back when I was young, we took the holidays very seriously. On the same paper, 14 shopping days till Christmas, right there. Nothing's changed, sorry.
But it was to buy war bonds, which was-- actually, it says defense bonds, which is kind of the first use of the euphemism defense for war. If the thing were called the Department of War, we might treat it a little differently. That's my claim.
Anyway, my mother-- my mother's father wouldn't let them get married when my dad went off to law school, because he wanted her to complete her college education. So she happened to be graduated, through the dumb luck of life, in the spring of 1942. So my mother was-- this is a family myth, I don't know-- was good at math and science. And then I know what you're thinking. What happened to you, Bill
So the president of Goucher college was the first cousin of the Secretary of War, Stimson. And he said to her, the president, can you get me some women to come work on this thing? I can't tell you what it is.
So my mom was recruited with 11 other women to work on the Enigma code, this thing in World War II. It's a famous or infamous or notorious thing, where the German guy had developed this code machine he called the Enigma. And it was used for bank transactions before passwords and pictures where you have to-- what's called? You have to make sure it's your picture before you put in your password. Pass code.
Anyway, the Nazi government confiscated all these machines and used them for military communication. They were crazy sophisticated machines. If you ever look into the Enigma code, it was a complicated thing.
But that aside, I met many of these women over the years at various events. It is an interesting thing-- are you OK? Sorry, we can get it fixed. We'll give you a postcard, you can send a donation.
It is an interesting thing. These women were classified in 1942. My mom told the story they were at the Naval Annex, which is this-- I guess it's a Navy base, next to WRC in Washington, where they do Meet the Press. It's just this little plot of land.
And they go to the chapel, and the guy says, welcome ladies. You will receive no special treatment because you are women. If you talk about what goes on here, you will be shot. So [HAND CLAP]
My mom says, like what? I thought this was going to be fun. The uniform is cool.
But with all due respect to all the other women in the picture, real quick. I'm just being objective here, people. Who has the best legs, really? I'm not trying to be a jerk. I'm just saying. Who is the hottest number, right there? That's all I'm saying.
Anyway, they both lived through this thing. They both lived through World War II. Now, my father was in China for most of the war. And then they were moved to the island of Japan, as the war wound down. And they had-- only now and then did they have electricity.
So my father had very dark skies for almost four years. So they were in 44 months, longer than anybody else from the US. And he became quite the amateur astronomer. My father could easily tell you 50 constellations.
You talked to-- are there any astronomers here? Do you know any constellation? Yeah, OK.
How many constellations are there traditionally in Western culture, anyone?
SPEAKER 2: 88.
BILL NYE: 88, yeah, just like keys on a piano. So anyway, he also, apparently, the family myth is, became fascinated with sundials. So he would reckon time with sundials, because the Japanese military confiscated all their watches and jewelry. And so he would put a shovel handle in the dirt. And when the shadow got short, he would apparently say, you know, it's time for lunch, like really.
And they would-- no, there was no Geneva Convention and everything is cool. It was kind of bad. Anyway, he lived through it and became fascinated with sundials.
So he came back to the US. He invented the sand-dial. You'll be shocked to learn the patent has run out. But it was this fabulous device that you could take to the beach and not get sand in your watch, the sand-dial.
Then he wrote articles. This is the Evening Star, back when Washington DC had two newspapers. All of the cities had two newspapers.
And then he wrote a book about sundials. And that's when his reputation was finally enlarged. Yes, he got a lifetime membership in the North American Sundial Society.
Any double S members? Sure.
Hey, just a minute people, I'm a member. And I know, those of you that weren't at the tent last night, it was pretty wild, pretty good party. But if you've ever gone out with the accountants, you know how crazy they are. Well let me tell you, when you're with the sundial people, it is off the hook.
People just, like this is casting a shadow, just--
It's moving-- look, it's moving!
So I was brought up with this. But of course, the rebellious young person doesn't have anything to do with sundials. No, sundials are silly, we all have watches. Come on, Dad, this is crazy.
But last summer, I was at the beach in Delaware. And I found myself making a pizza box into a sundial. An omen, that's the thing that casts a shadow is a bamboo barbecue skewer. And those are wine corks.
Because, you know, it was the sundial people or it sounds crazy. And then in the background, for you students, you'll see one of the remaining sundials still in service. And you might-- at this point in our story, you might wonder if I'm suffering from SOD, from Sundial Obsessive Disorder.
But I'm OK. I could quit if I wanted.
I just don't want to, that's all. So among my father's pretty good ideas was to turn the Washington Monument into a giant sundial. Fantastic! We can reckon time all over the world. We'd put our-- it would be all over the internet. It would be on every day. There would be a webcam.
So we'd have these stone hour lines, with big plinths-- any plinth people?
Plinth, for those of you who play Scrabble, plinth, just one vowel. And it's the stone, it's the rock you put your statue on. Like Ezra and Andrew, they got some nice plinths.
And so then, terrorists and other ne'er-do-wells would have trouble driving their black SUVs up to the bottom of the Washington Monument to knock it over.
Now there were some issues, and my father pointed this out. In the summertime-- it's quite satisfying, actually, right now-- the Earth spins so fast--
SPEAKER 3: How fast?
BILL NYE: Thank you.
That's very good, thank you. You can walk along with the shadow. The shadow moves, you can walk very gently, see it move.
But in the wintertime, when the sun is very low in the sky, the shadow gets very long.
SPEAKER 3: How long?
BILL NYE: And so, well-- how long does it get? We're going to-- thank you. How long does it get? We're going to have to move the White House a couple of blocks, maybe three blocks.
But my father pointed out, it's a small price to pay for that kind of entertainment. Because see, you reach a point in life, where everything really should be a sundial.
Every fire hydrant, somebody should be out there, you know, painting. Light standards, flagpoles-- I mean obviously flagpoles-- and of course, the Washington Monument. But all that aside, there's another detail that's important.
So if you look at the base of the Washington Monument, on the concrete apron-- yes, it's working here-- the shadow is gray. Yes, thank you, Bill, the shadow is gray. But if you look closely, the shadow is just a little bit light blue. And that blue color comes from the Earth's sky.
So next time you're outside on a sunny day, for the class of 2016, the new people, there should be one--
--before you are graduated. It's not clear when that will be, but it's possible. Go outside and make a shadow on something white, like my shirt would work very well, your button of course, is fabulous. You can use your finger or a pen or your friend's head or whatever you've got, and you'll see the shadow is gray. But if it's a blue sky day, the shadow is just a little blue.
Now we did not have a word for this in English, this tinge of blue. So I was forced to make it up-- cerulescence, the tinge of blue. And so by the way, there is a real word-- it's a real word, I made it up. There was a word before for green, viridescence, a tinge of green.
So this blue sky turns out to be quite important, when one considers and reflects on his or her legacy at Cornell. Cornell was deeply involved in the Viking missions. These are the two spacecraft that landed on Mars, back in the disco era.
You might have been working at the car wash.
You might have been Kung Fu fighting. And you might have been ringing a bell of some kind. I'm not going to say it was my bell, but you might have been ringing a bell.
Anyway, this is the first picture sent by the Viking spacecraft, in July 4, 1976. And I was at a meeting-- it was getting to be a couple of years ago, now-- I was at a meeting with the guys who were involved with this at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena. And this is where my old professor, Carl Sagan, was flying back and forth to Pasadena all the time. It was a very, very exciting thing. They managed to land a spacecraft on Mars, and they managed to get pictures back.
And the thing that always strikes me about pictures from Mars is it looks like a place. I mean, if you were dressed properly, you'd walk around. And for the young people, if you go-- and I hope somebody here does-- don't forget. You've got to take water, food-- I guess that would be Tang.
And you have to take something to breathe, people. Don't forget. They don't have air like we do. It's a whole other thing over there.
But apparently it was a day and a half, where the mission guys, the engineers, were looking at this picture. And they looked at the edges of the shadow of the antennas especially, and they said-- I paraphrase-- something like, huh? What?
And there's a blue tint there. There's some cerulescence in the shadows. And nobody expected that. And then they realized that they had calibrated the cameras back here on Earth. And they got to Mars and the calibration, the electronic color correction was probably not correct-- not correctioneded, uncorrect correction.
So they made the adjustments. And they realized it's more this color. So what is that color? That is--
SPEAKER 4: Beige.
BILL NYE: Beige, yes. Orange, ecru, eggshell. I always think of it-- it's where they sell women's stockings. And it's in the upper right. There's a big rack, it's the colors in the upper right.
I don't wear women's stockings.
I am a huge fan, huge fan. But I don't I don't wear them.
So anyway, the color of the sky on Mars is of great significance. Are there any geologists here? Yeah, the guy in the back. So you'll see them, they all just walk around like this.
Just hoping to find another rock and then-- you go to their dorm room or the professor, so I was just-- rock. Oh, this one's different. OK.
No, but the color of the rocks is very important. Because it tells you what it's made of. But it's a striking thing, my friends. When you look at Mars in the night sky, even tonight-- well, not tonight, but if some part of the world where they don't have clouds like Ithaca, you can see the orange color from here. The whole surface of Mars is rusty, and you can see it from here. It's really remarkable.
So one thing led to another. And I got involved with these guys, Steve Squyres, who's still with Space Sciences. And we had this thing called the photometric calibration target. And this had a metal post casting a shadow, on purpose. It's this big.
And I'm jumping out of my chair. You guys, we've got to make this little metal post thing into a sundial!
And they're, uh, Bill, um-- you know, it's the Space Program. Really, we don't use-- you have a watch on. Yeah, I know. But we can have sundials on Mars! Come on, people. It'll be like those guys who speak Klingon. Except it's real!
So Steve Squyres thought about it for three days, and he goes, OK. So there are two sundials on Mars, which we call MarsDials. There they are. And I encourage you, before you go, you can pick up your own paper version, make your own actual size MarsDial, do your own CAD camera calibration. And your life, of course, will be enriched forever.
So here's up close, there's the MarsDial. Now, it's not out of focus. Nothing at NASA is out of focus.
That would be a mistake. This is defocused. Totally different, completely different thing. It's defocused.
I think if you look down in the lower right, you can see that color. I will just do this. Oh, shoot. I pushed the button by accident. There is the color, the orange color.
Let me back up. OK. Let's see if I can do this without exploding. Yes, there. Doesn't that help?
But right there, seriously, right there, you see the orange color. And that's from the Martian sky. The Martian sky is not blue, it's orange.
So we didn't have this word in English, so I had to make it up-- arangiadescence. Arangiadescence, arangiadescence for the tinge of orange. And if my father were here, he would remind you that sundials should have a motto. They should give you something to think about, people.
So you will see, quite commonly it will say, I only count the sunny hours. Thank you. And then, if you go to some hippie school, like in Oregon or something, it will say, life is but a shadow. [LAUGHTER]
Like, wow, like dude, that is so out there, wow. And oh shoot, I'm under pressure. It's not uncommon in France to see-- it's an existential one-- Michelle, the key word is [FRENCH]. It's every hour injures, the last hour kills.
Yes, it's a sunny day in France. That's great, that's great. But you know, The Stranger, and Camus, and life sucks then you die.
Well, we have a motto. Our motto is two worlds, one sun. Ooh.
So shadows on Mars are cast by light from the same life-giving star as shadows on Earth. That's not bad, it's something to think about. Something to think about, young people.
So I just want to reassure you taxpayers and voters that we did use it as a sundial for a while. We put the-- what I brought to the party, you guys, this is in 1998. I said, we won't put hour lines on it. See, it's a Rover. Every time you rove, the hour lines would be all wrong.
So I said, we'll put it on the internet, this new thing. And so we did. We put the hour lines on the internet. And you know, it casts a shadow.
But the main thing is, if you're interested, there are tens of thousands-- I wonder if there aren't even 100,000 pictures of this thing, of these two things. Because that's how we get the colors right, every Martian day, every sol.
And I want to reassure you mechanical engineering colleagues, I had Professor Richard Phelan, Dick Phelan, big emphasis on vibration. I did the vibration analysis on the gnomon, the metal stick, that cast the shadow. And the thing is indestructible. You could tow a car with it, it's fine.
But somebody did send me this picture. [GASP] I was like-- what? I was ready to-- my life! Then I realized it was April 1st.
Oh, you crazy kids, with your Photoshop, you're nutty, you're kooky. No, both of them are still up there, and they're still casting a shadow, we presume. The Spirit Rover is stuck, and the cameras aren't working.
But I figure, no matter what Aristotle may have postulated, I figure it's probably still casting a shadow, even though there's nobody there to observe it. I figure.
Oh by the way, the two Rovers-- you know the thing has been running since 2004-- what is it now, 2012-- eight years. So the mission is now over $1 billion total. So what's that, $500 million a Rover? And they're not even locked.
I mean anybody could just walk up to them.
I don't know why didn't think of that. So you guys, as Laurie mentioned in the introduction, I, first of all, I got into Cornell, I'm pretty sure on some sort of wonderful clerical error. I mean, I don't know what was up with that.
But then something, I guess it was Dr. Bell Jim Bell and some other people conspired. And then I became a visiting professor, of this class of 19-- thank you, class of 1956, if you're here, you changed my life, thank you-- class of 1956 professor. So I walked by Rhodes Hall hundreds of times.
And I'm looking at this concrete circle, there in the middle. Every day, I'm walking by, looking at the circle, wondering what happened with the circle. What did they leave out? Or is this, like, an architectural irony, to, like, imply the existence of a clock that's not really there?
So, yeah, the architects are here, yeah, you should be embarrassed, yes.
So it occurred to me we should have a clock there, should put a clock on Rhodes Hall. That's a little talk bubble. A clock, I want a clock! And the first design-- I went back to the old drawings, I got to talking to people-- by the way, if any of you ever decide to do something that is hardware at the University, just settle in for the long haul.
There's the architectural approval committee. There's the committee for approving the approvals. Then there's the review committee for the approval committees.
But anyway, this is the original design for the clock. And I would just say, I'm trying to be, it's-- can I say unremarkable? Can I go, sucks? I mean, can I go, sucks?
By the way, the building for those of you who don't know, is a Gwathmey, Siegel building. And if you talk to the architects, Gwathmey, Siegel, oh, my, we must light candles.
You can't touch-- they must have left that architectural irony there to give thought-- no, OK. Everybody decided the clock didn't look very good. That's what it was. Anyway, so I convinced people that we could maybe put a clock there.
Oh, this image is out of order. This was the photometric calibration target. And I think if you look down at the original, if you look down in the corner, there's the yellow color from the vacuum chamber.
And that's also-- we didn't have a word for that, so I had to make it up-- xanthadescence, which is the tinge of yellow. And come on, people, it starts with an x. It's sexy, it's a good word, xanthadescence.
But for those who have never done this, watch the pattern that the sun makes in the sky every day of the year. Now, this takes a year. But the sun will move, relative to where you're standing. And this vertical line implies that it's taken at noon. This is when the sun culminates, an astronomical term, is highest in the sky.
So in the winter, the sun is very low. In the summer, the sun is very high. But only now and then, does a sundial, measuring solar time, say the same thing as a watch.
That's because the tilt of the Earth and the out-of-roundness, the ellipticity of the Earth's orbit, conspire to make the sun rise slightly east of what would be the meridian and slightly west, depending on the day of the year. Most people go through their whole lives without ever knowing what this thing is. You look at a globe, they often put this pattern out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It's called the analemma, which is the old Latin word for a pedestal. And it was used in general to mean the pedestal of a sundial.
So the analemma is the path of the sun in the sky. It also refers to the equation that you might use, to make clock time agree with sun time. So here's the thing, you guys. We all go through our whole lives not noticing this.
You can go buy calendars with puppies, calendars of puppies and ducklings. You can get puppies and kittens.
You can get calendars with cheerleaders. You can get firefighters with no shirts on. You can get all of this-- oh sorry-- you can get all of this. But nobody knows why it comes out exactly right every year, right?
This year was a leap year, we had February 29, everybody accepts it. That's fine, February 29. No, do you realize how hard these people worked? The astronomers in ancient times? No pictures from Earth, no internet. No clocks.
They figured it out just by dint of being careful. And that ability, that ability to reckon time, has changed the world, I claim, more than the wheel. So 2012 was a leap year. Was 2008 a leap year? 2004 was a leap year.
The year 2000 was a leap year.
SPEAKER 5: No.
BILL NYE: The year 2000 was a leap year, my young friends. Yes, don't make me come over there.
The year 2000 was a leap year. But to you, sir, will the year 2100 be a leap year? No.
So ancient astronomers, dinking around, figured out the following system. If the century's not evenly divisible by 400, then it's not a leap year. That is amazing.
They did this in 1582. They convinced the pope, Pope Gregory XIII, the Gregorian calendar-- coincidence? Perhaps.
They convinced him that this was a cool idea. So notice, even though they worked it out and everybody signed the papers and they all agreed, the year 1600 was not a leap year. I mean, it was a leap year, nothing irregular about it, no exception.
So I had this idea to put a solar feature on the clock at Rhodes Hall. And my idea was we'd have a slit, an opening. And as the disk of the sun, which subtends about a half a degree in the sky, got over the slit, then light would come down, and the thing would light up. And it would just be this fabulous deal.
Well, B, it's quite difficult to make a slit big enough. I did some calculations. And the thing would have to be about 60 feet long.
Oh, shoot, this-- trying to use this clicker, I have caused myself nothing but trouble. The thing would have to be about 60 feet long. And that was considered impractical.
Furthermore, I don't know how much time you've spent in Ithaca. It's not always a sunny day. Sometimes it's cloudy.
So I had to figure out if this thing were going to happen, I had to figure out what to do. And I got a job at Boeing when I was graduated. And I worked on 747 airplanes.
I don't want to-- don't worry, I was very well-supervised.
I worked on 747s. There's a hydraulic tube in the 747 that I kind of think of as my tube. The horizontal stabilizer, it had this little vibration problem.
Anyway, this mythic guy at Boeing was Tex Johnston. And Tex Johnston was a test pilot on the original 707. And he was-- another guy was an alumnus of World War II. He was a contemporary of Chuck Yeager's. And he affected that down holler, I can fly this old plane, don't you worry, this is nothing to it, I can feel it.
So he was flying the very first 707, which was called the Dash-80. And if any of you came to Ithaca on the de Havilland Dash-8, that is absolutely homage to this old designation for airliners.
But as you look at this picture, I want you to notice, it also has some trouble. This picture is upside down. The picture actually looks like this.
So Tex Johnston took a 707 airplane and did a barrel roll. He did a roll with an airliner. And I don't know how much time you spend on airliners, they seldom do this. Very seldom.
And Tex Johnston lands the plane-- this is company myth, you know, it's a big deal. And the press is there, and the bosses are-- what are you doing, Tex! And he says, I'm selling airplanes. And then he's supposed to have said, one test is worth a thousand expert opinions.
And those are words to live by, my friends. One test is worth a thousand expert opinions. So Uncle Bill has this idea to put this solar feature on a clock, where there used to be an ironic architectural reference to time. And--
And it has to work on a cloudy day. So there is a product sold, the most popular one is made in Australia, called the Solatube. And it's a plastic dome. But wait, wait, there's more.
The dome has striations or grooves molded in it. So as sunlight comes in, it's redirected down the tube. It is a much, much brighter thing than a skylight in your house. Even when the sun is low in the sky, light goes down the tube.
But now, let us note well, if Uncle Bill has this idea to pipe light to the front of the clock the thing will be lit all day. Dude, you're bragging about the tube, I know, yeah.
But what we did is we put some trapdoors in it. It's a commercial product, so the clock-- for those you who want to review the engineering drawing, there, just take a second. And it was made by a company called Electric Time.
And by the way, the letters are custom. They're custom made to the clock, by this company in Medfield, Massachusetts. But that style is named after Richard Neutra, who is a famous architect. And that style was suggested to me by Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's widow. So I feel like Professor Sagan is kind of up there.
This is what it looks like at solar noon. I could not help but notice there were only three of us out there today at solar noon. But now that your life has been enriched, you will be out there every day. What happens is the doors open in the tube. And light is transmitted to that feature that looks a little bit or is visually reminiscent of the sun.
And this is, you guys, a tribute to my dad and my mother, who worked so hard to put me through school here. And it really just means a great deal to me that the thing is up. And by the way, since we're on Daylight Time, solar noon is not at noon, it's at 1 in the afternoon. And it's not quite at noon. Today it was about exactly five minutes after 1.
And I tried to load today's picture in the computer. But so many people were tweeting and texting, I couldn't get the thing into the talk. So I'm sorry.
But I did take a picture today. And even on a cloudy day, I have witnesses, it's pretty satisfying. Dr. [INAUDIBLE], would you say? It was pretty satisfying. So this is the placeholder for that slide, thank you.
That's actually a skier in a whiteout who has just left--
When you guys go to Mars, and I hope some of you do, and you observe the analemma of Mars, it looks a little different. Because the Martian orbit is exceptionally out of round by Earth standards, it's much more elliptical. And the Martian tilt, the tilt of Mars, is almost the same as the Earth.
When I was in school, the Earth was tilted 23.5 degrees. Now it's 23.4. Whoa.
The world is-- the world is wobbling, my friends. It's not your imagination. The whole thing is doing that, that's right.
So you guys, I encourage you, now that I am executive director of the Planetary Society, CEO, I guess it's called, check us out. We work very hard to engage people around the world in planetary exploration. This is the original MarsDial, two worlds, one sun. And then this will be the MarsDial for the Rover that lands here in August.
And I encourage-- I really don't want to take any of these home, please use them up. And I hope somebody here will take it upon his or herself to construct an EarthDial. So back in 2004, when the Spirit and Opportunity Rovers were launched, we set up this program where you could build your own sundial on Earth, which we whimsically called the EarthDial. And then you put a camera, so that it's facing it.
So the camera is in that flashlight. It turns out a waterproof flashlight is a pretty good, watertight enclosure for a webcam. So there's the webcam pointing at the EarthDial. This was back when I had a house in Seattle. And it even works in moonlight, it's quite odd.
But then people around the world set up these EarthDials. So you go to our website, there's a calculator. It tells you how to put the hour lines out.
And it's interesting to see that the hour lines change shape, depending on your latitude and depending on your hemisphere. And then your tax dollars were used-- somebody at the South Pole set one up. And you see the hour lines go all the way around. Why don't we do this, yeah.
You don't see that in most sundials. You have to be at one of the poles. So consider building an EarthDial at your school or your dorm or on the roof of your car or wherever you've got. And if you hook up with us, we will send you, yes, a space geek button. Yes, I know, you can dream.
So the thing about having gone to school here and having had Carl Sagan for astronomy and having worked on this sundial thing and having been exposed to how much energy humans use everyday-- like just the lights in this room-- it's really astonishing that if you take a second and look at a picture like this-- first of all, you showed a picture like this to my father, let alone my grandfather, it looks like it's defocused. Wait, looks like it's out of focus.
But that's not out of focus. That's the Earth's atmosphere. And I just always emphasize to people how astonishingly thin the Earth's atmosphere. I mean, if we had the right car and some extraordinary road, we could drive straight up and be in outer space in less than two hours, you know, highway speeds.
It's not-- yeah, it's hard to do. If you can figure that out.
But it's really an astonishing thing. And this is what I like to call being aware of your place in space. If I claim that if everybody had this planetary perspective of how thin the Earth's atmosphere is, we would probably behave differently.
Let's say that this picture of the sun represents the sun.
Then this picture of the Earth would in turn represent the Earth. And if you don't-- I don't know how familiar you are with it, but the Earth is one astronomical unit from the sun. It's the average.
And this is something astronomers use. And it's easy to remember. You go to an astronomer, and you say, hey you!
How far is the Earth from the sun? It's hilarious. Mars is 1 and 1/2 astronomical units. Mercury's 40%. And then Venus is 70%.
And you would think, intuitively, that being farther from the sun, Mars would be colder. And it is. The icecaps aren't just water, they're dry ice, like it's your birthday party or whatever.
And Mercury is fantastically hot, when you're in the sun. Turns out there's a crater on the North Pole of Mercury where there's ice. (SINGING) Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Because there's no atmosphere to hold in heat.
If you go to Venus, my friends, it is spooky hot. It is crazy hot. It is way too hot.
So Mars is too cold. Mercury is too hot. Venus is way too hot. The Earth is just right.
On Venus, it's 99 times the Earth's atmosphere. And this would be 90,000 hectopascals. And my recommendation is we change that to heps, 90,000 heps.
If you were there, it would melt lead. Your fishing weights and your toy soldiers would melt. I know, oh, yeah-- well, don't take them.
And the reason is the Venusian atmosphere. The Venusian atmosphere apparently holds in so much heat that it's this condition. And it apparently has slowed the spin of Venus down, the way the Earth's oceans slows the Earth down.
So you guys-- I see some young people here-- I hope you have played this game where you can't walk on the floor, because it's like lava. And then you can't drink this water, because it's like acid. Well on Venus, it's really like that, OK.
On Venus, the ground is really hot, and it rains sulfuric acid. It rains sulfuric acid, people. But the acid doesn't get to the surface, because it's too hot. It evaporates before it hits the ground.
Venus is, by western reckoning, like hell. So we do not want to be Venus. Mars, on the other hand, fantastically thin atmosphere. Barely 7% of the Earth's atmosphere. 7 hectopascals or 7 heps. Heps, be so hip.
Now these data showing next are from the Sojourner Rover, which was in 1997. And that's where they named the station that it rolled off of the Carl Sagan station. And it is an interesting thing to note. How old are you guys? Are you guys 10 years old? How old are you guys, do you know?
SPEAKER 6: We're 10.
BILL NYE: You're 10? I was 10 for a while.
Yeah, it was about a year. I was 10 for about a year.
Anyway, you missed this. But your parents were here, where if you look at the atmospheres, Mars-- the Earth. Let's look at the top row, carbon dioxide.
Mars is 95% carbon dioxide. Almost all carbon dioxide. The Earth is 0.03%. And for the-- I know there's some arts and science people here. 0.03% is the same as 300 parts per million. It's the same number.
But everybody here, all the grownups were here when that number changed, rounded to one digit. That changed from 0.03 to 0.04 in our lifetime. So it seems like an insignificant part of and small fraction of the atmosphere is changing the world. And that is where the people who are in school here now are going to have to deal with this. They're going to have to deal with this.
So at the Planetary Society, we have started a new educational thing. We're building a light sail spacecraft. This is the first, privately funded spacecraft that will be pushed through space by light.
We built a patented titanium biomodule to take living things to Phobos, the moon of Mars. We got we got some really cool things. We got these microbes that are perfectly characterized by this American type culture collection. And then we got some tardigrades the little water bearers. We're going to send them to Mars.
I talked to the planetary protection officer of NASA. This is somebody in charge of keeping us from violating the prime directive, from sending living things to Mars. And I said, we're going to send this thing.
And she goes, you don't even need to do that. They're going to be fine. You don't even need to run that test. And that's when I realized it was a pretty good idea. Because they just hadn't thought of it.
Anyway, everybody is very confident that zero gravity is not a problem. This crazy cold is not a problem. It's the radiation that may or may not affect the organisms.
Anyway, I don't know how much you follow the history of the Phobos Living Interplanetary Flight experiment, but it's in the Pacific Ocean. A rocket crashed.
By the way, the Russian space agency-- first pictures of the far side of the moon, first sampling of the lunar surface, first robotic return of a sample from the lunar surface, first pictures of Venus, balloons in the clouds of Venus sending back data-- that space agency is 0 for 21 on Mars. They've tried 21 times. And they've missed every time. So when this mission goes to Mars this August, keep in mind how hard it is, just what an extraordinary thing it is.
So at the Planetary Society, along with our other kooky little things and our new educational outreach-- do we have one magazine?
SPEAKER 7: Right here.
BILL NYE: Our new education outreach, thank you, Bob. This features what's-his-name here. This one's about the inverse square law.
And I know all you are fans of the inverse square law. Who isn't? Anyway it's right here. Please take them home with you.
And the other thing we're really involved in-- there's planetary protection, where you keep from violating the prime directive-- planetary defense, where a rock could come. If you had a rock this big this close, I hope you would say something like, aah!
So when I was young, people, nobody had a good idea about what happened to the ancient dinosaurs. My second grade teacher, Mrs. McGonigle said, well they had--
Did you know her? The ancient dinosaurs had small brains, so they were stupid. So the mice and rats took all their food, and they died.
People, really. I'm a tyrannasaurus, you're a mouse, that's that. But in our lifetime, people discovered the crater in Chicxulub, Mexico, almost certainly the place where the big impactor hit, threw out and ejected stuff into the air that was bigger in diameter than the Earth. So we had sort of a broiler in orbit around the Earth for 10 or 11 years. And that's what cooked the ancient dinosaurs.
So for those of you scoring along with us, there's a rock called Apophis, named after the Greek god of anxiety, which is going to come by the Earth in 2029 and then again in 2036. Right now, it will probably miss, probably. But you understand, it's a really hard thing to figure out.
It's not the only rock out there. All this stuff has gravity. It's really dark and cold. And you can't see things very well, even with our best telescopes.
So right now, it will probably miss. It's 1 in 10,000 chance. That sounds pretty good, right, pretty good.
But you guys, if I gave you a gun, a revolver, with an extraordinary large diameter revolving chambered thing, and it had 9,999 bullets in it, with just one empty chamber, would you hold it to your head for $1? Probably not. You guys may have to do something about an asteroid. It's quite reasonable.
So at the Planetary Society, we fund this extraordinary weird research, where we're going to put spacecraft up there that have mirrors that gather light, that pump a laser, that will zap the surface of an asteroid in a swarm of the spacecraft. And the stuff coming off the asteroid will just nudge it enough.
Oh, by the way, when you go to deflect an asteroid-- if you guys decide to do this-- you don't push it in or out of the orbit of the Earth. You just want to slow it down or speed it up, just enough, so it misses. So this could be a very exciting time. Deflecting an asteroid is like science fiction, only it would be real.
And if-- by the way, you guys, if the Earth gets hit with an asteroid-- I mean, I'm telling you. What is it, it's Control Alt Delete for a civilization. You're done. It's not like--
So I went down to Cape Canaveral, for the launch of the Curiosity Rover, MSL-- Mars Science Laboratory. By the way, MSL was called Mars Smart Lander. But NASA thought they'd get in trouble for that, if it turned out to be not so smart.
So they call the Mars Science Laboratory, Curiosity. And it launched on Saturday, November 26. It will arrive Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on your time zone, at quarter after 1 in the morning, Monday morning, quarter after 10 out west.
So be there. It's going to be an exciting thing. It's going to have cameras that look down at the Martian surface. You're going to see Mars coming up like this. That is, if nothing goes wrong.
Then the spacecraft, which everybody says is as big as a Mini Cooper, as big as a car, will be lowered on cables to the Martian surface. The cables will be cut. What could go wrong?
Well. So be there.
In 1965, I went to the World's Fair in New York City. I was 9. And my family went to see this new, cool display of the US population. It was 192 million, almost 193 million.
Well, this afternoon, the US population is 313 million. So it's 1 and 1/2ed in my lifetime. The world's population-- we are very disappointed in missing the numbers change from 2,999,999,999 to 3 billion people.
This is my dad taking pictures of the car odometer when it changes to 100,000.
Yeah, we didn't have video. It was film. It was a technology with molecules. Anyway, don't worry about it.
So there were 3 billion people. Last Halloween, we changed almost certainly, it was that weekend, we changed to 7 billion people. So the world's population has more than doubled in my lifetime. The atmosphere is not getting any thicker. And the comparative planetology, as it's called, of Venus, Mars and the Earth is more striking than ever.
So when this mission lands-- Sunday night, Monday morning, August 5th and 6th-- you guys, really just take a second and pause. And think about what we were able to accomplish technically, and what we have learned about our place in space. And compare that with the state of the world.
The opportunities for us, and especially as Cornellians, we have this fantastic legacy of exploration. We have this fantastic university that engages so many people, where any person can find instruction in any study. What about my old boss? Maybe not, yes.
But we are living at an extraordinary time. So on the edge of the MarsDial on the Rover, is an inscription. And this is the first time we have sent words to another world, since Carl Sagan's times, since the disco era. And so we gave it a lot of thought. There were seven of us that went around and around on this thing.
And in very small letters it says, we launched this in our year 2011, arrived here in 2012, built these spacecraft to look for signs of water and life, study Martian environment, understand Mars past to prepare for our future. And then in very small letters, it says to those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery.
So my friends, this is part of your Cornell legacy. This is inherently optimistic. People will go to Mars someday. They will walk up to this Rover and think, wow, it's not even locked!
No, they'll walk up to it and see that we, back in the day, despite all the stuff that's going on the Earth-- despite all these people, creating all this carbon dioxide, warming our world on a faster than ever before apparently in history, faster than ever before in history-- that despite all of this, we had this optimistic view of the future. And my friends, for me, the joy of discovery is what I got out of Cornell. This is the greatest-- the best idea humans have ever had is, I claim is science, furthermore, this process of knowing. Furthermore, if science isn't the best idea we've ever had, we'll throw it out and come up with a better one. And then we'll claim that's really science.
So for me, it's the joy of discovery, the joy of knowing, as Professor Sagan used to say. And we are all part of that. We are all part of this optimistic view that we can change the world, that we can leave it better than we found it. And so to be part of that is really an honor for me. And I appreciate you all coming. And to the young people here, to the students in school now, I very much want you to, dare I say it, change the world! Thank you all very much.
Thank you, Laurie.
LAURIE ROBINSON: Don't go anywhere. That was great.
BILL NYE: OK, thanks.
Wow, thank you.
Thank you, guys. Wow, this is so nice! I love you man, woman. Thank you, wow.
LAURIE ROBINSON: So Bill, once again, you have enlightened, entertained, and empowered us to--
BILL NYE: Change the world, yes.
LAURIE ROBINSON: Thank you for sharing your time with us. But more importantly, thank you for all you've done and continue to do for our class, our university, our society, and our planet. As a small token of our appreciation-- can I get your bag out?
BILL NYE: Yeah, yeah, please.
LAURIE ROBINSON: OK.
BILL NYE: Oh, yeah.
LAURIE ROBINSON: Later. As a small token of our appreciation, please accept your own official Cornell varsity baseball team windbreaker.
BILL NYE: Yes.
LAURIE ROBINSON: For those of you who don't know, Cornell team just closed its season with 31 wins, 17 losses, one tie, setting a program record for victories in a season.
BILL NYE: Still under 500.
Well, it is! 17/31.
LAURIE ROBINSON: But wait, there's more.
BILL NYE: Wait.
LAURIE ROBINSON: Anyway, that was a program record. Just for the second time in the team's 143 year history, it went to the NCAA tournament. But Bill, knowing how much you love Cornell and how much you love baseball, we hope you will wear this proudly and feel just a little bit of the pride.
BILL NYE: This is cool! This is beautiful, thank you, Laurie.
LAURIE ROBINSON: Well, just feel a little bit of the pride that we feel in calling you a fellow Cornellian. Thank you so much.
BILL NYE: Oh, thank you, thanks you guys.
This is the lens from the test fixture. I forgot to mention it. And there's the crazy shiny tube. And it says on the box, don't leave it in the sun, it'll catch on fire.
It does, it says that. So you guys, this is so nice. If nothing don't happen, as I like to say, what I'd really like to do next thing is to fix the clock on Teagle Hall. I don't know if you've been there. It just could be a lot better. It's a rusty thing that you can't see right now.
Hey, you guys, this is really nice. Thank you all so much for coming. Please take, please take the MarsDials. And we'll get out all the Planetary Reports that are left.
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Speaking to a packed alumni audience June 9, 2012 during Reunion Weekend, Bill Nye '77, best known as the host of the popular children's show "Bill Nye the Science Guy," spoke of his lifelong interest in science, his work developing sundials for the Mars rovers, the solar clock he designed for Rhodes Hall and his current work at The Planetary Society.
As CEO of The Planetary Society, a nonprofit focused on exploring the solar system and the search for extraterrestrial life, Nye works on such projects as sending life to Mars and developing methods to deflect asteroids passing close to Earth.