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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Vin­tage Sci­ence Face Masks: Con­quer the Pan­dem­ic with Sci­ence, Cour­tesy of Maria Popova’s Brain­Pick­ings

Japan­ese Design­er Cre­ates Free Tem­plate for an Anti-Virus Face Shield: Down­load, and Then Use a Print­er, Paper & Scis­sors

Bill Nye, The Sci­ence Guy, Says Cre­ation­ism is Bad for Kids and America’s Future

Bill Nye the Sci­ence Guy Takes the Air Out of Deflate­gate

Free M.I.T. Course Teach­es You How to Become Bill Nye & Make Great Sci­ence Videos for YouTube

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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