CHARLIE TRAUTMAN: Good morning. It's a real pleasure to see so many people here for this event. It's a very special event. And we're all excited about what is about to happen. I'm Charlie Trautman, executive director of the Science Center in downtown Ithaca and adjunct Professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering here at Cornell.
Before we welcome Bill to the stage, there's a very special friend who would like to say just a few words. And if we can take a moment and beam him down?
JIM BELL: Hi, everyone. Hi, Bill. I'm Jim Bell. I'm an adjunct professor in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell. And these days, I spend most of my time here in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, where today, it happens to be a balmy 105 degrees Fahrenheit or approximately 314 degrees Kelvin.
And of course, when I think about sunny days like this, I often think about my friend and colleague Bill Nye, whose donation and foresight we're all here today to honor and celebrate. I was Bill's faculty host for his stint on campus a few years ago as a Frank HT Rhodes class of '56 university professor. And it was just great to help build a spread some of his passion, beauty, and joy for science to the latest generation of Cornell undergrads.
More recently, I've become the president of the Planetary Society, the world's largest public membership space advocacy organization co-founded in 1980 by Cornell astronomy Professor Karl Sagan, who was one of Bill's teachers when he was an undergrad here. And I love that job partly because I get to, again, work closely with my friend Bill Nye, who is now the executive director of that same Planetary Society and who works incredibly hard every day to help everyone on Earth know and appreciate the cosmos and our place in space.
And in fact, that's exactly why we're here-- to honor our friend Bill whose neurons and wallet are responsible for this magnificent new solar noon clock being unveiled atop Rhodes Hall. Bill's passion for timekeeping and especially sundials was inspired by his father, who was an amateur [INAUDIBLE] and almost certainly was one of the people who helped to more broadly inspire Bill's lifelong interest in science and science education.
It's really an amazing family story, in fact. And I'm sure that Bill will be delighted to share it with all of you. Now, Bill has been dreaming about this clock for a long time. I remember, in fact, one time, maybe seven or eight years ago when we're walking across campus and talking about the fact that Lou Gehrig used to play ball on Hoy Field when the Columbia baseball team came to town. And Rhodes Hall was in the background with that big round hole up on top.
And I said something like, you know, Bill, it almost looks like someone planned to have a clock put there. Someone really should follow through on that. And Bill turns to me with a little twinkle in his eye. And he says, well sir-- well sir, you know, someone may just have already had that idea. And that's how I learned about this multi-orbit of the sun adventure that Bill Nye had embarked on to get his solar noon clock installed in that most prescient orifice.
His perseverance has really paid off. And I believe that this clock, this Bill Nye solar noon clock is destined to become a major landmark on campus and a constant reminder to students, faculty, and staff of the intimate connections between the cycles of our lives and the cycles of the heavens.
Even when he's not on campus, he'll be educating people. He'll be making us stop and think about the fact that we're all on a spinning globe circling around a star that is the ultimate source of our very existence. Hopefully, you'll get to see that star light up Bill's clock at solar noon today in Ithaca and on many, many more sunny days to come.
So congratulations to all of the students, faculty, staff, and contractors that helped to make this happen. And special congratulations and special thanks to Bill Nye, engineer, scientist, educator, visionary, friend, and deep down inside, a true Cornellian. Bill, you've done your part here. You know what comes next-- get back out there and help change the world. Thanks, everybody.
AUDIENCE: Come on, Boston Red Sox, come on. And how was that?
And so with those words from Professor Jim Bell, it is my distinct pleasure and honor to welcome to the stage Bill Nye, my good friend and partner in planetary crime, The Science Guy, class of '77.
BILL NYE: Thank you. Thank you, Charles. Thank you, all.
Good morning. Hello, Ithaca!
It is wonderful to see you all this morning, very exciting. This is great. Thank you all for coming out on-- I'm surprised there are so many of us here on a Saturday morning. I hope you've enjoyed your sort of camp Cornell days. Welcome. I was very excited about this talk. Very focused on it, I have to tell you, until just a few minutes ago. One of you came up to me. I won't say-- one of you came up here and said, is Bill Nye your real name?
And I said, well, it's William Nye. And then first I presume was a student said, well, why did you change it?
Wow, this is the future. That's great. That's good. No, I kid. I kid because I love. No, thank you all very much. Thank you so much for coming. As Dr. Bell mentioned, this project has been very important to me for a long time. You live your life. You never know what's going to happen to you. And one thing has led to another, and here we are all. Welcome, Cornellians, professors, friends, colleagues.
I'll just take a few minutes and tell you a story. Our story begins with-- OK, wait. OK, let's see. This way. OK, here we go. Yes. Our story begins with my dad. This is my dad. Well, actually, it's a picture of my dad.
He wasn't that-- he wasn't that tall. So I know you guys with your Wiis and your video games and stuff, you may not have ever seen these. But this is a hammer.
And what geologists do is they hit things with it on purpose. And I don't know if you don't get out much, but these are rocks here. And geologists love rocks. They're crazy for rocks. They walk around all day looking at rocks. Every rock tells a story. Are there geologists here? A couple. And you'll see them. They walk along like this.
Hoping to find-- oh, this one's different. Oh yeah. Then they hit it and so on. So my dad was not a full-time geologist, but he was quite a rock hound as they call him. He liked rocks. And he called himself Ned Nye, Boy Scientist. And once again, because that was his name, that's why he used that.
So unlike many of us, my father didn't like law school. I know it seems weird. It sounds like so much fun, law school. So he got this great idea somehow to not finish law school but get a summer job on Wake Island. Yeah, it's hilarious.
So Wake Island is in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. You go to Hawaii, and then you go that far again. And you're on this seemingly middle of nowhere place. But it's big enough, Wake Island. It's still there, by the way. They haven't moved it. And it's big enough to build an airstrip. And here's a picture from what's called Piel Island. And it's all one thing.
It's a curved piece of land out in the middle Pacific Ocean. And this is where you would refuel these flying boats, so-called airplanes, the sea planes. And so although it's in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, if you could get ships there and put aviation fuel there, then you could land your plane and carry on. And so this is a US base there in the summer of 1941.
So then here is one of the flying Clippers. These are airplanes made to land on the ocean. And they did. And they had big engines. And my dad was the quartermaster of this construction crew because he was the college kid. And they would refuel these planes and keep track of how much fuel the planes stock and so on. And by the way, these planes were so big.
AUDIENCE: How big were they?
BILL NYE: You know, look, people, there's a lot of competition out there. These planes were so big--
AUDIENCE: How big were they?
BILL NYE: Phew, jeez. Whoa, whoa, whoa. Not worried about the future. It's all good.
That they became quite fragile. And not any complete Boeing Clipper survived the war. There's pieces of them, but there isn't a complete one of these planes as cool as these are. Now, this picture is from a book written by the Navy commander on Wake Island. And there's no record exactly, but I'm pretty sure-- and I'm not joking here-- that that's my dad right there. Well, it's a picture. Yeah, it's a picture of my dad.
He would supervise the fueling of the plane. And he told me that was great. We didn't have our shirts on. It was cool. It would rain. We did put on raincoats. OK, that was all fun for a while. But Wake Island being in the middle of the Pacific Ocean encountered some difficulty. On December 7, 1941, as part of their Pacific strategy, the Japanese Navy bombed Wake Island the same day as Pearl Harbor.
And this is a newspaper that my dad kept from-- actually, his parents kept, my grandparents kept, from that day. And for us, I mean, we all lived through 9/11, which was quite striking, but this really sounds like it was a huge deal. There was a war going on in Europe. And this was the moment when the war became worldwide.
And so these guys, my dad and his colleagues, fought back. They shot down at least two Japanese bombers every day for two weeks. And they were all eventually captured on Christmas Eve, 1941. And he wrote in his diary, saddest day of my life. It's like that, but it is interesting to note.
Here's this newspaper, 1941, talking about the war. Speedy agreements for conducting war. it also refers to the just really long tradition of the United States and Britain being allies despite our differences and the language barrier.
But it is interesting to note that on this day in the lower corner of the paper, 14 shopping days to Christmas. It's not that new an idea. I just find that quite charming. So this was all going on. Now my dad had a college sweetheart, my mother, and just by the weird luck of the universe, my mother was graduated, undergraduate, in the spring of 1942.
Now by weirdness of life, she went to Goucher College, which is a liberal arts school. I guess it's a good school. They don't have an engineering school, so I mean, I don't know what goes on.
But it was back when they had such things, the sister school to Johns Hopkins. Now it's an independent school, and it's very nice. Anyway, so the president of Goucher, a woman, was the first cousin of the Secretary of War, Secretary Stimson. And apparently, the family story is that he asked his cousin, do you have any women that can come work on this thing? I can't tell you what it is.
So my mom and 11 other women were recruited from Goucher to work on this thing called the Enigma code. And this Nazi code, German code. It was originally built by a guy to send bank transactions around in Germany. And it's just a fantastic thing. It looks like a typewriter. And you put in one letter, and it comes out a different letter.
You put in the same letter again, it comes out a different letter or a different, different, different letter. And it's very difficult code to break. And these mathematicians worked on. And so my mom and 11 other friends of hers worked on this thing. And it's not clear what they did.
When I was a little kid bouncing off of grownups knees, these people had cocktail parties. That's how they interacted. Of course, that's all changed.
But they would ask my mother, hey, what did you do during the war, Jackie? This was their touch thing. This is what everybody would talk about. And she would say, oh I can't talk about it. [LAUGHS] I can't talk about it. [LAUGHS] So these women, I went to their reunion party or what have you, and they didn't talk about what they did. They were declassified in 1992.
Do you imagine keeping a secret for 50 years? I mean, my goodness, and they did. I guess that's how they rolled. Anyway, look, I am a nice guy. I am not a pig or nothing like that. But just so you can try to pick out my mother, I will say to you, really, objectively-- just objectively, who's got the best legs?
OK. So there's my mom right there. Well, it's a picture of my mom. Yeah. And so she was a lieutenant in the Navy. So my mother then worked on the Enigma code, while my dad was in prison camp. And bear in mind, it's just a different era. There was no Facebook. What? Yeah. There was no internet. What did they do all day? Yeah, I know.
But these guys had disappeared from Wake Island. There are some Marines, some Navy guys and these civilians were all captured from Wake Island and just taken to the mainland of China. And no one knew what happened to them for almost four years. It's really a different era. So then my dad emerged, and my parents got married right after he got back. My mom waited for him, which was a little bit unusual.
So anyway, while my father had been in prison camp for 44 months, the Japanese military had confiscated all their watches. And there was no jewelry. And they couldn't have jewelry. And they had no clocks and so on. So my father, the family myth is, became quite the amateur astronomer. He could-- I mean, my dad could tell you 50 constellations without too much trouble.
How many traditional constellations are there, people? It's the schools. It's the schools. That's all right. No, I'm fine. It's OK. No, how many keys on a piano?
BILL NYE: 88. 88 traditional constellations, but many of those you can only see in the Southern hemisphere. So anyway, my dad became an amateur astronomer. And he also became fascinated with sundials. So he would, the family myth is, use a shovel handle or a broomstick or whatever the Japanese military would allow them. And he would reckon time watching the shadow.
And several times I was with him, and he'd put pebbles on the ground. Hey, watch this, Bill. Oh, by the way, if you ever go to-- anybody here in the North American sundial society? Anybody? Because that is crazy. I mean, you may go to a party with the accountants. You know how that's nuts, right? But the sundial thing, there are-- everybody's like.
It's moving. It's moving. It's moving. Look at the pebbles. So my dad, he really took this to heart. How would I say? He created the sundial, which you can take to the beach and not get sand in your watch. He wrote a book about sundials. He had articles published in Washington area newspapers talking about sundials and how much he liked them, and so on.
And it's hard to read, but it says, as the sundials become more interesting to scientists, they become less interesting to everybody else. Because it gets so complicated. I just can't tell you, if you try to reckon time really the way we have time on our watches phones to milliseconds, you try to get that with a sundial. You'll make yourself nuts.
It's like the Earth's orbit is an ellipse. The Earth is tilted. The atmosphere is refracting. The Earth has a precession that's doing-- it's crazy, but what fun. And this also, if you can read it, it's from a different time. But he told the reporter for The Washington Star newspaper-- The Star has been absorbed. It used to be two newspapers before the internet. And it says, sundials are pretty girls. You don't really need to understand them to appreciate them.
OK. All right. OK. I didn't write it. OK, I didn't write it. But you reach a point in life where everything really should be a sundial, really. Every telephone pole, every fire hydrant, certainly every microphone stand, anything that catches a shadow really should be a sundial. So I was at the beach this summer in Delaware, and I took a pizza box. Made it into a sundial. I could quit if I wanted. I just don't want to, that's all.
And you reckon time pretty well. So on sundials, anything that doesn't tell time, is not used for telling time is called its furniture. Its furniture. So the sundial is furnished with the beautiful drawing from this beautiful woman. And there it is. Fabulous reckoning time on the beach. And you'll see this sundial has a motto-- for the sunny hours.
And if you take it out at night, really unless there's a full moon, really nothing happening. This is one of the drawbacks. But my father's book and all his ideas, one of his things was he wrote a monograph about turning the Washington Monument into a sundial. And for some reason, my father's genius has still been unrecognized.
This time of year by the way, if you go there in the summer-- well, it's going to be August. But if you go there now, the thing is so big--
AUDIENCE: How big is it?
BILL NYE: I'm still a little worried. I'm still-- it's only August, right? OK. I hope you pick that up. It's good. You go there now, the shadow moves about at walking or slow strolling pace-- you can watch the shadow move. And when the sun is lower in the sky in the wintertime, the Earth's tilt makes the sun lower in the sky. The shadow extends way to the North.
And so what my father proposed-- and I think we'll have to do sooner or later-- is move the White House a few blocks so that this thing really becomes a significant instrument. No. So now, this part of it, you may have to take my word for this next thing. Because it depends on the color of the lighting in this room.
Now if you look at the lighting here, it's artificial light, and it has a lot of yellow in it. But I want you all to look at the base of the Washington Monument, where the cement skirt is. Well, it's not a skirt. It's an expression, at the base. It would be a big one and heavy there at the base of the Washington Monument. Look right there.
And I think if you're taking my word for it, that shadow isn't just gray. That shadow is just a little bit blue. It's ever so slightly blue. And so I encourage you, if you've never done this, go outside on a sunny day, and there's one scheduled here next year.
Those of you who are freshmen and haven't lived in Ithaca yet, you'll see. That's really funny. That's just hilarious.
It's just a laugh a minute on a sunny day and make a shadow on something white, like my shirt would serve very well. Or if you have your finger or pen or your friend's head, whatever you've got. And look at the shadow. And you'll see the shadow is gray. Yes, thank you, Uncle Bill. The shadow is gray, fine. But if you look closely, I think you'll see that in here the shadow is quite yellow.
Well, in the Washington Monument, when the sky is blue, the shadow is a little bit blue. And that blue color comes from the Earth's sky. So there was no word for this. So I was forced to make one up. The bluish tint, we will call cerulescence.
Cerulescence. There is a real word. Well heck, now cerulescence is a real word. Just a second. Viridescence is a real word-- that's green. Well, cerulescence would be blue. So that little tinge of blue is why everybody knows-- when you're looking at a picture or TV, whatever the heck, you know that it's daylight instead of room light or artificial light. You know it.
But unless you're an artist or photographer or really taken a minute, or pun intended, you don't get-- that blue color is what's making you realize that it's a sunny day that you're looking at. So I went to school here in the 1970s--
--during the disco era. Look you guys, it was not all good, all right? It was disco. And then it became new wave-- really, it wasn't that great. You have a lot better now in my opinion, in that one regard. Anyway, they, we, it, Cornell was very involved in putting a spacecraft, two spacecrafts, on the planet Mars. On Mars. And this picture went around the world.
This picture was famous, famous, famous. First picture sent back by the Vikings 1 spacecraft from the surface of Mars. And what I always strikes me about Martian pictures is it's a place. I mean, if you are dressed properly, you could walk around, you know? You could have a picnic or something.
You'll want to take food, it's a camping trip, water. And I also, really if you go to Mars, strongly recommend you take something to breathe. Because they don't have anything for us. It would kill you very fast, but it is an amazing place. Now, there's another feature of this picture. Not just famous picture or infamous, but notorious feature of this picture, the sky is blue.
And I was at Jet Propulsion Lab, JPL, three years ago in November. And these guys were telling the story again, the guys who had been there at the time. It was about a day and a half before somebody said, I don't think the sky is blue. And the other guy said, well, what do you mean? I mean, it's a planet. I know, but it's a different planet.
And so this was electronically done by accident. Electronically, you can make the thing any color you want. It turns out the sky on Mars is really-- yeah, this is-- sorry, this is what they said-- huh? Yeah. The sky on Mars is really this color. What is that color? That color is orange. Yes, or salmon, or tope.
If you go where they sell women's stockings, it's in the upper right. It's one of those colors. I don't wear women's stockings. I am a huge fan. Huge fan. We'll call it pale orange. Anyway, so getting the color right is very important to rock hounds, to geologists. These guys are obsessed. I'm sorry Dr. Steve Squyres isn't here today, the principal investigator in this thing.
And you saw Jim Bell, Dr. Bell, gave a little intro was pretty nice. It was very nice. Anyway, these guys are obsessed with the color of rocks. They can't get enough of the color of rocks because that tells you what's in the rock or what's on the surface of the rock. And on Mars, the whole thing is orange because the whole planet has rusted. The whole planet is rusty iron oxide. So they had this idea back in the 1990s.
This would be nirvana. This would be Nevermind and so on, Kurt Cobain, right about that time. What we'll do on the next spacecraft so we don't get the color of the sky wrong, we'll put one of these there. That'll do it. So I was invited to a meeting at Space Sciences. This is at the height of The Science Guy show, you guys. So thank you.
This is the height of The Science Guy show. I got invited to this meeting at Space Sciences, Steve Squyres, Jim Bell, the professor who did that video intro. And they had this picture there of this thing. And you see, it's a lot better than the other one that they had.
And I go, what is it? See here, Bill, that's photometric calibration targets, what that is. Photometric calibration. Like, if you don't know-- [LAUGHS]
So it's a test pattern for the camera. You point the camera at this thing, and you look at the color coupons, as they're called, and then you're supposed to get the color of the electronic image correct. But wait, wait, there's more. So they put a metal post on there to cast a shadow on purpose. And so bear in mind, before this lecture, this is several years ago. I'm sitting there listening to them.
Now, I don't want to frighten you, but I worked on Boeing 747. I don't want you to be scared. I was very well supervised.
And there's a tube in the Boeing 747, hydraulic tube about this big that I like to think of as my tube. And it took me three years because it added weight to the airplane. You're never supposed to add weight to the airplane. That is evil. You are fired. Get out of here.
But I convinced him that this was OK. Well, so they had this metal stick. And I go, they're casting a shadow. Come on, you guys. Aren't there wire harnesses or antennae or something that-- the little squibs that blow the thing? Oh no, we got to have this because it casts a shadow in this way. And then right about-- I'm like, my goodness, you guys. We've got to turn the photometric calibration target into a sundial!
And well, no, no. Thank you. No, but these people were all looking at me. You know, Bill, it's the space program, really. We don't use sundials anymore. Bill, I see you are wearing a watch. You can-- no, no, it'll be cool. We'll be able to reckon time on another world. No, no, it'll be like guys who speak Klingon, except it'll be real.
So Steve Squyres and Jim Bell, they thought about it for sort of three days. And they went, OK. So if you look at this picture closely, I think you will see-- it was taken in room light in an oven. I think you will see not cerulescence or viridescence, but a yellowish tinge that I like to call Xanthodescence. Yes.
Xantho-- come on, it begins with an X, people. C'mon, that's just sexy. So there's two guys--
These two guys, Jim and Steve, went OK. So my friends, there are two sundials on Mars. This is Husband Hill. Actually, it's a picture of Husband Hill, named after Rick Husband, one of the guys killed in the Columbia wreck, space shuttle wreck. And if you look down here in the lower right, there is our Mars dial.
And so it casts a shadow, let me assure you. And there are tens of thousands of pictures of these things because they really do use it to get the camera right every day. And so very pleased to be part of that. And it's a very cool, little instrument. And the third one-- we made three of them. There's a machinist at the University of Washington Seattle made three of them. And the third one was sitting in Jim Bell's drawer, Dr. Bell's drawer. But this Curiosity Rover, MSL, Mars Science Laboratory.
Oh, by the way, MSL, the next rover which leaves in November to get to Mars next August, you guys will all be here. You'll all be alive for the next Mars Rover. MSL originally stood for Mars Smart Lander. But NASA got all freaked out that people would give them a hard time if it screwed up. So they changed the acronym. It's not smart. No, no, it's science. It's the science lander, yeah. They did. It's true.
Anyway, it has a happy name. It's Curiosity. The Curiosity Rover's Mars dial is the one that was sitting in Jim's drawer up at space science the last few years. Anyway, if you look at it closely-- we have it here-- I think you can see down here in the lower right that the shadow is not blue. It is not yellow. It's not green. Instead it's orange. So I had to make up the word orangadescence. Yes, Orangadescence.
And it is. It's orangey colored. It's taupe, ecru, mocha, whatever that is. There it is. And so you can see it. And by the way, at NASA, nothing is out of focus. That would be a mistake. This is de-focused. They made up their own word, de-focused. And it's very close to the camera. The cameras are focused at like 50 meters or something. And so it's out of focus. It's de-focused every day.
And as I said, it was manufactured at the University of Washington, Seattle. I lived in Seattle. It's where we did The Science Guy show for many years. And the guy who really worked on it, Woody Sullivan-- he's a really brilliant astronomer. He's a big gnomonicist. The gnomon is the thing that casts a shadow on a sundial. So a gnomonicist is a gnomon maker. OK, Bill, dude, really.
Anyway, he pointed out and my father would have pointed out that if you have a sundial, it should have a motto. It should give him something to think about. Like I had the pizza box for the sunny hours. Like you'll see I only count the sunny hours. If it's cloudy, you're on your own. And you'll see something like life is but a shadow. Like wow. And Woody, there's one in France. I've seen this picture. It says every hour injures. The last hour kills.
It's a sunny day. It's great. That's great. It's that whole [INAUDIBLE] the stranger, existentialism. Life sucks and then you die. That's great. But really, people, we put a motto on the Mars dials. And our motto is two worlds, one sun.
Not bad. It's not bad. So I hope it gives you pause for thought. OK, there's only one star. And the shadows cast on these two different worlds must need be made by light from the same star. I hope that gives you pause for thought about what I like to call your place in space. It really is quite a thing when you see pictures of shadows on Mars. If you showed that to my grandfather, he'd have thought, you're making that up. I've read science fiction books. It's nothing like that. They've got canals. And everybody talks to each other in English. And it's great.
But I just want to reassure you. We did use it as a sundial several times. The Planetary Society, the organization that Jim Bell, Dr. Bell, made reference to, I'm executive director of. We got together. And we put the hour lines on it electronically. The two things-- oh, I did bring something to the party, you guys, at that meeting back in the day. When you're near the equator of a round planet, like oh, like the Earth, for example. Yeah, sure, it's a good example. Then you don't want a triangle sticking up. You don't want your gnomon to be a triangle because sometimes the sun is south of you. And sometimes it's north of you.
If you go to Hawaii or someplace, you'll see they have a rectangle sticking up or as my father did just a stick, a post, what's sometimes in English called a noon pole. And so because the Rover is roving, the hour lines would move. So I go, hey, you guys, no, no, no hour lines, really, chill. No triangle. So that's what I brought to the party.
But anyway, we reckon time with it several times. And the other thing I did, just want to reassure you, taxpayers, voters, I did do the vibration analysis on the gnomon, the metal stick there. The ball helps your eye find the center of the shadow. And now, heck with your eye, we do it electronically. We find it dead on. And then the lower star-shaped thing, that's the lower notice. When the sun is low in the sky in the morning or the afternoon, it casts its own shadow. And you can find the center of it.
All right, I did the vibration analysis on this aircraft aluminum 6061 T6 unobtainium fabulous thing. And it's super strong. I mean, you could tow a truck with it, what have you. But if it had come loose, this metal stick, and bounced around in the spacecraft electronics, Uncle Bill would have-- it would have been bad, all right? But anyway, recently, one of you sent me this picture. And then I realized it was April 1st. Oh. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. Oh, you kids, you kids with your Photoshop. You're crazy. You're kookie. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.
But whoever did it, I want to reassure you, you got me, all right? There was a full comedy beat, where my life's over. No, that's not how it's assembled. It's just whimsically hilarious. All right, that's the story of Mars. And I just want to point out to you Cornellians, this is very much part of your legacy as Cornellians. A whole bunch of fantastic things go on here. You will have the opportunity to hear people speak, you can imagine. You will interact with professors who are absolutely the best in the world at whatever it is he or she does. You'll have fantastic experiences here.
But this, the exploration of Mars, is very much part of Cornell's legacy. And I just like to share it with you because I hope when you understand more about these other planets, it enriches you and enriches your life and your understanding of your place in space. So here's Rhodes Hall. Actually, it's a picture of Rhodes Hall. I don't think it would even fit in this room tell you the truth. Yeah, that is a joke, everybody. I'm not afraid.
So I walked by this building. I walked by this building after I would come to visit. This building didn't exist when I was here as a student. But then thanks to Dr. Bell, I became a visiting professor, or a class of 1956 Frank H.D. Rhodes professor. And so I would come here. I came here once a semester for five years. You think you got it bad. Yeah, I came here. And I'd look up at that building and go, man, it would sure be cool to have a clock right there, right?
And I said to myself roughly, a clock, wouldn't that be cool? So because of my dad and all this sundial history, I wanted to put a sundial on there. But I don't know how in this the motion of the sun you are. But you can't really reckon time on the north side of a building unless you go to extraordinary lengths. There are a few days or weeks of the year where the sun does hit that thing. But have it sit there all year dark seems sort of purposeless, unromantic.
So I thought, heck, let's have a clock lit in some fashion by the sun. And so your first idea, if you're a physics scientist or engineer, I got it. We'll just make a big slit, a big skylight. And the light will come from the skylight onto the clock. That'll be simple. Well, the drawings are all in English units. You'll see a mixture here of metric and English. But it turned out in order to really have a satisfactory slit, it would have to be 59 feet long, which I know, easy for you, if you're a pitcher. That's only 60 feet.
But this would be impractical. And so in order to make it get enough light to the front of the clock, you have to have a big enough area of skylight. And if you make it narrow enough to have a satisfactory noon moment, the thing ends up, as I say, just crazy too big. So I agitated about this. I cognified. I smirkated. I stroked my chinified. I did all kinds of things. And where I live now, in Southern California-- this is me. Actually, I'm here. That's a picture of me on the roof of my house.
And I have four kilowatts of solar panels. And I have a solar hot water system. And then I also have this dome. And the brand name is Solatube. It's made in Australia. There's a lot of competitive products now. But 5 and 1/2, 6 years ago, that was the thing. And so it hit me. What we got to do is use one of these bad boys to run light from the one side of the building to the other. So the dome is not just messing around. The dome has these grooves in it.
And if you could look at a couple of these lights, you'll see there's circles in them. And this is called a Fresnel lens, French mathematician named Fresnel, who figured out you can scoop out a lot of the glass and just compress rings. And you'll get still a pretty good lens. And so these rings push direct sunlight down the tube even when the sun is low in the sky, in the morning or evening. So this Fresnel lens is quite cool.
So I thought, well, we can put this lens, this Fresnel thing, on the roof, the Solatube, run light from the roof to the front of the clock. And then it hit me. We'll light it up once a day at solar noon. Now, solar noon is this time that's not clock noon. It's when the sun is highest in the sky. And astronomers or navigators will say when the sun culminates, the culmination of the sun.
And so we'll wait for the sun to be highest in the sky. We'll let light down the tube. And the clock will be lit up. And it's going to be fabulous. All right, then my colleagues, some of whom are seated here, said, I paraphrase, dude, that is never going to work. Like dude, really? Dude. And of course, they may have been right. This is a you must embrace that. So I lived in Seattle. And I worked at Boeing. And part of the Seattle and Boeing mythology is the mythic Tex Johnston.
Tex Johnson was this pilot for World War II. And he's a test pilot. And he got this thing. Did you see The Right Stuff with Chuck Yeager? They all affected this down holler accent. And I can fly this plane. And I'll do it. So he did, you guys. He took a Boeing 707 in 1954. It wasn't even a 707. It was the Dash 80. And he flew over this big crowd and did a barrel roll. Now, how much time you've spent in airliners, but they very seldom do barrel rolls, very seldom.
And so the flight engineer-- in those days, the cockpit had three people. It had pilot-- they were called pilot, co-pilot, and engineer before the term captain and first officer was really embraced. And he threw the thing upside down. So he landed. And the Boeing management, Tex, dude, what are you doing? And he said, I'm selling airplanes because it was this new thing. It was the first jetliner, US made. It was a big deal. And Tex Johnson is supposed to have said at this press conference, one test is worth a thousand expert opinions.
And that's pretty good advice. That is pretty good advice because you will find, especially in academia, there's a lot of expert opinions. So we went to the roof of Rhodes Hall with a Solatube. This is it put on a chair. And you get an idea of how far it is off the ground up there. And then we built this little test fixture. It has the sun coming in here into the lens, goes down through an elbow in the tube, which is a big mirror and comes flying out the front. Big fun.
So how bright is it? Well, it's so bright that if you go out here on a sunny day or even-- this was a partly cloudy day quite similar to today. You can see it right there. There we go, the big red dot. OK, wait, it's not red. Just a second. It's the white dot. But there it is very bright, especially when it's aimed right at you, very bright. So I thought, OK, hey, man, this is going to work. So this company quickly rigged it up. And they're seated right here, Tom and Brandy.
Thank you. Fabulous. They built the clock with the help of some skilled craftspeople. So if anything goes wrong today, the white shirts, you got them? So I don't know how much fun you guys have reading engineering drawings. There's nothing more fun. But you can see-- oh, here, I'll do this. Now, you'll have professors that use the laser pointer. And let me just say, we're all in on this. They go like this. They take-- oh, shoot. They take the laser pointer. Let me see if I can-- then they go like this, like that's supposed to help you.
But anyway, here's the duct coming down like that. And it lights up that what I like to call solar noon indicator. And there it is right there in the back of the clock with all the time it took to convince-- OK, designing the clock, that's straightforward. Getting through the approval committee for approving committees of approving, that was quite a thing. But there it is. And these bars now, instead of being fluorescent tubes are now light-emitting diodes. So you guys, Cornellians, I remember I saw Bill Nye back in the early 21st century. And light-emitting diodes were this new thing.
They are. They're new to make them this big and this bright is really cool. So the clock is lit with about a third as much energy as was originally designed. So that's kind of cool. So it lights up at night.
Well, thank-- thank you. But thank The Electric Time company. How did you get the idea for that name, Electric Time? Oh, I see. That's great. It's brilliant. No, I get it. So any of you guys who've been out there and looked at the clock-- I hope we'll all go out there in a little while-- a few days ago, the number fell off.
It's all good. 13 years. Money every year. Clock's up for a week. Number falls. It's fine. It's great. Stuff happens. It's all good. No, no, I just want you all to know whether or not your engineering students-- there's a great lesson to be learned here. First of all, the face of the clock, slick and shiny as it is, is not quite as flat as you would hope. And then you all, my father would go, why don't they screw those numbers on there? They put them on there just with glue. That's all wrong. They should have rivets and stuff, mechanical stuff, things.
Well, I just want you to know this is a great lesson. What we did, they did, the gang did, they put on the same adhesive, just a little thicker so it can tolerate the not flatness of the clock face. And next time you're enjoying a meal with cutlery like this, you might say to yourself, well, the nice one has rivets in the handle. The cheap one has glue. Well, let me just show you. This a little engineering for you guys. The rivets crack. The glue or adhesive system does not because glue is a material.
You don't think of it that way. But if it's designed right, my understanding is the clock's good for over 60 years, right? 60 more years. Get ready. So if you've been out there, everything's working fine now. There it is. And there it is illuminated at solar noon. So that light that drives that thing is from the sun. There's no extra light bulb in there. And on a cloudy day, I'm pretty confident it's going to work very, very well.
So I'm very excited about this, you guys. I've been working on this thing for a long time. It's part of the history, the legacy of my parents. It's part of the remarkable opportunities I've gotten by being an engineer here at Cornell, and the really wonderful education, the terrific instructors I had while I was here. And so I just hope you all, when you walk by the clock the next few years, look up at it and think about, this is really a product, this is something that happened because I went to Cornell, because both parents were in World War II.
And you don't know what's happened to you that will shape your life in some other strange direction. You just don't know. When I was a little kid, I was quite charmed by the Sky Streak. This was an airplane built at first by the Army Air Corps. And then when the Air Force was created on its own in 1947, it became an Air Force plane. And they built three of them. It was going to break the sound barrier. And come on, everybody, they painted a very fast jet red. I mean, that is just sexy. That's just cool.
And so I thought, this is the coolest plane I've ever seen, oh my goodness. And I want you to know that I had my own Sky Streak. Yes. And there was one time where my older brother, shown here, showed me how you could lubricate the rubber band, what they call the rubber motor, with dishwashing liquid. Oh yes, yes, instead of 100 winds in there before it-- boop-- pops, you can get like 300, man. I've sat there. And I'm a little kid. And I am focused. And I am winding that thing up. And I got it triple knot-- yes, triple knotted. Boing, boing, boing, boing.
And normally, when you fly one of these aircraft, if you've ever done it-- and Elmer's glue works after fashion. But by the way, Elmer's glue adds weight. And you'll find coupling between roll and yaw. Just a little arrow detail there. But one time, I threw this plane. And it did three loops, three circles rather. And it came right back to me, like a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Oh my God, that is the coolest thing I've ever seen. And I still think about that moment because I'm sure that moment is why I became an engineer in airplanes. I'm pretty sure that's why I'm now Executive Director of this astronomy organization because these little things that happen to you that you're not aware of at how much they're going to affect you at the time.
So I also grew up in Washington DC, in the city, a little unusual. And I delivered The Washington Post. Now, in The Washington Post from time to time, they would have Ripley's Believe It or Not running this story in some form. And I contacted Ripley's. They're now stationed-- what do they call it? Their office is in Florida. And the guy sent me these things, very nice, insects which have been flying for some 350 million years. Defy the laws of aerodynamics. The bumblebee, considering its size and shape is an aerodynamic misfit and should be unable to fly. Believe it or not.
So there was one summer we had azalea bushes in the front yard. I spent a lot of time watching bees. Let me tell you something. Bees fly fine. They're not defying any law of aerodynamics. It occurred to me even as a little kid the problem is not with the bee. The problem is with the theory. That's what screwed up. So my friends, I guarantee you there is something that you are absolutely certain of. You are sure of something. And it is wrong. I guarantee you. And if you can figure out what that is, you will be able to, dare I say it, change the world.
Now, if you're not familiar, this is the periodic table, one of the most amazing ideas humans have ever had, discovering the relationship of everything that we can touch and see. But I remind you that you and I are made of the stuff in the middle. And we are made of almost nothing from a universal perspective. From a universal perspective, everything is either hydrogen, 90% of the observable universe, or helium about 3%, 8% the observable universe. No, the estimate changed not too long ago.
Everything else, what we are made of-- name a familiar thing, carbon, sulfur, phosphorous, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide. Everything else is what I like to call everything elsian. And it is in there that you will be able to, dare I say it, change the world. Now, the big problem we have is climate change. You guys are all going to come of age when climate change is going to become serious business. Maybe you heard about the flooding. Maybe you noticed it was 314 Kelvins in Arizona. Maybe you noticed that we have Hurricane Irene. Did you hear about that?
And these problems are going to get stronger. These issues are going to get stronger because there's more energy in the atmosphere. And people are going to come to you as taxpayers and voters with crazy ideas how to address climate change. And you as Cornellians, whether you're an engineer, or a physicist, or a scientist, or an attorney, a public policy person, public health, speaking multiple languages-- multiple expressing yourself with language-- you will be involved in this. And it's going to be up to you to decide which of these ideas is crazy.
We'll add biochar. We'll burn everything. OK. I know. We're going to throw a bunch of fertilizer in the ocean. And that will take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere because plants will get bigger, except the whole world will become giant mat of pond scum. Oh, I know. We'll put reflectors in space. That'll be inexpensive. And nothing will go wrong.
You guys are going to have to figure all this out. But here's an example. Why don't we grow plants on buildings? I don't know. I don't know if it's a good idea. I don't know if it would work. Can you get water up there? Would it work? Would you have tomatoes outside your office window? I don't know. It's going to be up to you guys to figure that out. I want you to come up with it.
Now, I want to mention this before we go because I have been exposed to a lot of big ideas in climate change and engineering the whole world. The guy who promotes this is a little odd. That's coming from me.
But it's kind of a cool idea. And I just want to expose people to it because one of you is going to realize whether or not it's worthy. You look at the lagoon in Belize. Or actually it's a picture. If we had the lagoon here, it would be-- it would change things. The electronics would be troublesome. Anyway, the lagoon is very dark because water is absorbing light. And the deeper it goes, the more red light is absorbed. And the bluer it looks.
You look at the wake of the motorboat and it's white. It's bubbles. There's bubbles. So these guys who have analyzed what are called hydrasols. Aerosol is where you put droplets in the air. Hydroxyl is where you put air into the liquid, the opposite. And they found that these bubbles when they're really small, a millionth of a meter, a few microns, they still reflect light. But they don't bubble out a solution. If you are a bubble that small, water is more like molasses than it is for you and me.
And so it reflects light. There may be a time where there's The World Bubble Council. And they make sure that enough bubbles are created by ships at sea to reflect light back into space. And of course, that idea may be stupid. But I wanted to bring it up because this is the best idea I've come across. And it's sort of an aside. And it has everything to do with sunlight. Now, you guys, you're Cornellians here in 2011. My grandfather, not my great grandfather, not some remote somebody I've never heard of, but my grandfather went into World War I on a horse.
And when there was a fire in Birkwood Place in Baltimore, Maryland, the fire truck showed up pulled by horses. Now, this was a fine thing in 1918. Oh, he put a gas mask on himself and a gas mask on the horse because that's how they did business back then when it was wartime. But 20 years later, nobody did anything like that on a horse. 20 years later, horses were gone. And internal combustion engines ran the world in just 20 years.
Earlier this summer, a musician named Gil Scott Heron died. And if you know your music history, Gil Scott Heron had a very big hit with The Revolution Will Not Be Televised because he believed, and quite reasonably, that the revolution would happen. And the man, or the government, could do nothing about it. Well, it turns out the revolution is televised. Everybody's watching the-- in fact, the revolution doesn't count unless it's on Facebook. I didn't see any video. That didn't happen.
You guys are living at a time where information is shared so quickly in such robust fashion. You will be able to, dare I say it, change the world. Also, on the Mars dials, on the planet Mars, in very small letters is the first message to the future sent out since the Viking spacecraft and the Pioneer spacecraft back in the disco era. Around the edge of each Mars dial in very small letters it says, we people of Earth sent this in our year 2003. It arrived here in 2004. The next one will say 2011, arrived here in 2012. Built these instruments to study the Martian environment, to learn about Mars' past, prepare for our future, look for signs of water and life.
And then on the last of the four sides it says, to those who visit here, we wish a safe journey and the joy of discovery. And my friends, that is the essence of this. That is what this is all about is the joy of discovery. That's what we want you to get out of Cornell. That's what we want you to do if you're in science, engineering. That's what we want you to do no matter what your discipline is, is to, dare I say it, change the world.
This is a famous picture taken two years ago by the Cassini spacecraft. Cassini was the mathematician who found the rings in Saturn, a mathematical pattern to the rings around Saturn. And this is a spectacular picture, spacecraft out beyond Saturn looking back toward the sun. Got the sun just peeking around there about 7:00 on a clock face. And the only night on Saturn is the shadow of those rings because the atmosphere is so thick and conducts so much light. And by the way, if you had an extraordinary bathtub, and some extraordinary source of gravity, it is interesting to note Saturn would float. Surprising result.
But this picture is not just a picture of this remote, beautiful world. This is also a picture of the Earth. The Earth is right there. That's it. Now, if we go a couple of thousand kilometers over that way, here's the Earth with the background stars enhanced. That's it. That's everybody. That's what Carl Sagan used to call the pale blue dot. And I hope you'll take a second, a moment, some time, and think about that dot. That's it.
That picture of the pizza box sundial was taken in Delaware. When I was a kid, went to the same beach and looked around. And now, Mrs. Cochran, my third grade teacher, had told me that there are more stars in the sky than grains of sand on the beach. I remember thinking, Mrs. Cochran-- I wouldn't have expressed it this way-- but Mrs. Cochran, are you high? Have you ever been to a beach, lady? There is sand. There is sand everywhere. You look that way, there's sand. Sand. The tide goes out, there's sand. Look behind you, shuffle your feet, sand, sand, sand.
But there are more stars apparently than all of that. So I began to feel quite insignificant. I am just another speck of sand. And if you look out to sea, you go out to sea few nautical miles, you can't see land. You're in the trackless ocean on a planet which really in the cosmic scheme of things is just another grain of sand. I'm like a speck standing on a speck, which orbits the sun, a completely unremarkable star. It's medium. It's day at the office star. And it's out on the outskirts of a galaxy. It's not even downtown Milky Way. And the galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies.
I'm a speck on a speck orbiting a speck in the middle of specklessness. I am nothing. I suck. But with my brain, which is only this big-- now certain of my old professors of course, must have been quite a bit smaller. No. But with your brain, you can imagine all of that. With your brain, you can know your place in space. And with your brains and your Cornell education, my friends, you can, dare I say it, change the world. Thank you all very much. Thank you.
Oh cool, oh. Oh, thanks, you guys. Thank you. Thank you. We gotta go, yeah.
Thank you all. Thank you. Wow, thank you. Wow, thank you. Wow. Thank you. Oh, you guys, that's so nice. Wow, thank you.
So that was just great. Look you guys, those of you who are astronomically savvy and those who soon will be, solar noon today is at 13:07, 1:07 Daylight Time and I think 40 seconds. So let us all mosey out to Hoy Field and watch solar noon come through the clock.
AUDIENCE: Science rules!
BILL NYE: Science rules! And so you guys, if you stick around out there, we can do questions and answers out there. Let my family get out. And we'll see you out there. Thank you all very much.
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In an August 27 lecture that filled the 715-seat Statler Auditorium, Bill Nye presented a personal look at his lifelong interest in science and sundials.
Nye talked about his father's passion for sundials and timekeeping, his time at Cornell, his work on the sundials mounted on the Mars rovers and the story behind the Bill Nye Solar Noon Clock.