When Bill Nye performed three sold-out shows in New York last summer, many in the audience copied his trademark by wearing bow ties. Look for a similar tribute Tuesday night among those who come to see him at the Merriam Theater.
During a public appearance in February, however, the well-known science communicator counted just two audience members sporting his signature neckwear.
The location? The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky.
Nye, who gained fame as "Bill Nye the Science Guy" on public television in the '90s, debated museum founder and avowed creationist Ken Ham on the topic of evolution. Some in the science community thought it a mistake, arguing that the debate helped legitimize the biblical story of creation as a literal explanation for life's rich diversity.
But Nye, 59, seemed to come away from the experience with renewed zeal in his quest to spread the word about science. He published a book titled Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation, and lately has spoken out against politicians who challenge the scientific evidence that shows human-induced climate change.
In an interview last week, he touched on evolution, genetically modified organisms, and his early career as an engineer at Boeing, where he said he designed a modification for the horizontal stabilizer used on the 747.
Asked about the critics of his debate appearance, he said that they might have a point, but that any downside was outweighed by exposure for science. Millions have watched the nearly three-hour event on YouTube.
"With that many viewers," Nye said, "you've got to feel that there's a lot of people talking about it."
Likewise, the book is meant to encourage conversation. Nye said that he does not expect to change the minds of people in their 40s or 50s who reject evolution, but that he hoped his words would resonate with the young.
"It's about the future," Nye said. "The next generation. People who are going to do the next thing after the iPhone, the people who are going to desalinate water with lower energy costs than we have now. Those people, that's who I'm writing for."
In the debate appearance, Nye ably took the audience through the evidence that species evolved by mutation and natural selection. Among other points, he cited geological and chemical evidence to refute Ham's contention that the Earth is just 6,000 years old - a literal view of creation that is not shared even by most people who believe in a divine role in the process.
It was a mistake to debate something about which there is no debate in the scientific community, said Jason R. Wiles, an associate professor of biology at Syracuse University. "It really just kind of served to put this particular interpretation of Scripture on an equal footing with science," he said.
Still, Wiles is a Nye fan.
"He's done a fantastic job of communicating science to nonscientists," said Wiles, associate director of a multi-university consortium called the Evolution Education Research Center.
Among his other recent turns in the spotlight, Nye has spoken out against genetically modified organisms. He has no concerns that GMOs are unsafe to eat, but worries that introducing them into the environment can have negative impacts on other organisms in the long term.
When not writing, giving lectures - or adding to his collection of bow ties (more than 250) - the New York resident serves as chief executive officer of the Planetary Society, a Pasadena, Calif.-based nonprofit that promotes space science and exploration.
He has time for the lighter side as well, such as appearing in a 2013 episode of The Big Bang Theory.
Asked if he had any issues with the TV series' portrayal of scientists as socially inept, Nye said he was willing to make allowances for a hugely popular show that features science in a starring role.
"We must keep in mind that comedy is based on stereotypes," Nye said. "Those stereotypes are easily accessible."
He appeared as himself in the program and, naturally, wore a bow tie.
If You Go
Bill Nye speaks about the wonders of science and performs a few demonstrations along the way.
Where: Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Tickets: $35 to $49.