Bill Nye Shows How Face Masks Actually Protect You–and Why You Should Wear Them

Like many Americans of my generation, I grew up having things explained to me by Bill Nye. Flight, magnets, simple machines, volcanoes: there seemed to be nothing he and his team of young lieutenants couldn’t break down in a clear, humorous, and wholly non-boring manner. He didn’t ask us to come to him, but met us where we already were: watching television. The zenith of the popularity of his PBS series Bill Nye the Science Guy passed a quarter-century ago, and the world has changed a bit since then. But even in the 2020s, when the spreading of scientific knowledge is no less important than it was in the 90s, Nye knows where to air his message if he wants the kids to hear it: TikTok.

Hugely popular among people not yet born during Bill Nye the Science Guy‘s original run, TikTok is a video-based social media platform that accommodates videos of up to 60 seconds — roughly half the length of the “Consider the Following” segments embedded within the episodes of Nye’s original show.

This week Nye has revived the format on Tiktok in order to lay out the scientific principles behind something that had recently become a part of all of our lives: face masks. True to form, he explains not just with words but with objects, in this case a series of respiratory system-protecting anti-particle devices from a humble scarf to a homemade cloth face mask (employing that stalwart science-project component, a pipe cleaner) to the medical industry-standard N95.

“The reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect you,” says Nye. “But the main reason we want you to wear a mask is to protect me from you, and the particles from your respiratory system from getting into my respiratory system!” As simple a point as this may sound, it has tended to get lost amid the fear and confusion of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic: the conflicting information initially published about the advisability of face masks for the general public, but also the ensuing controversy over the implementation and enforcement of mask-related rules. But as Nye reminds us, this is “a matter literally of life and death — and when I use the word literally, I mean literally.” As we shore up our knowledge of masks, we Millennials, who throughout our lives have learned so much from Nye, would do well to internalize that point of usage while we’re at it.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

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Comments (8)
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  • Dave says:

    This fraud sure hoodwinked the American public. He’s not a scientist. At best he was a mechanical engineer. Then he became a tv personality. I don’t buy the snake oil this fraud sells

  • Fuck Nye! Beakman forever! says:

    >and when I use the word literally, I mean literally.

    Okay mister honorary doctorate – Beakman was literally, LITERALLY, better at this than you.

  • Beakman was better says:

    >when I use the word literally, I mean literally.

    Fine Mister honorary doctorate, Beakman was *literally* better than you.
    Understand? Good.
    Chances are this will go over peoples heads, but I
    Know that in the end I’m right.

    Nobody ever really liked you Bill Nye
    You aren’t even a real doctor, you didn’t work for it.
    Everyone knows that Beakman was better.

    Now read the first letter of every line

  • James says:

    Average size of a cloth mask pore: 80 to 500 micrometers (
    Average size of a coronavirus: 100 nanometers ( r-identified-in-in-fected-HRT-cell_fig1_12225613)
    Average size of a saliva droplet: 0.5–12 micrometers (

    That´s why you should check out science before publishing fake information. Simple math can solve the problem: all you need to do is divide pore size by virus and droplet size…. big REAL numbers!

  • CMF says:

    This guy is an actor and a fraud…. another agent of the psy-op/ propaganda machine. I’m so sick of these people and their demon companions on the Maoist left.

  • Mao Money Mao Problems says:

    As a Maoist, I take great offence at being lumped in with Bill Nye!

  • Kelly mcbride says:

    I loved your message Bill but i could have done without the anger at the end. I mean, I understand that everybody has a personal experience with this pan. and it’s ok to show strong passion but haven’t we had enough from that emotion? You seem a kind man and I think this can help the younger pop more if the delivery was a little softer. Thanks for everything you do and and done and for this wonderful video.

  • Joesixpack says:

    The people who refuse to listen to real scientists are complaining that Bill Nye is not a scientist.


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