(CBS) — The end of the Letterman era on TV is especially poignant for one group of Chicago area people. They are the Kid Scientists, chosen to be on the show to demonstrate scientific experiments and generate a lot of laughs. But for the young participants we spoke with, it ended up being a lot more than that.
David Letterman always introduced them the same way: “Here they are from Naperville, Illinois. Say hello to the kid scientists.”
Since 1997, close to 100 local kids have been on Letterman setting bubbles on fire, creating glow-in-the-dark concoctions and blowing things up.
It all started with former Naperville teacher Lee Marek. He designed experiments for the kids and even helped choose who would go.
“We’re looking for kids who are bright so they could memorize a script,” Marek said. “They has to be sure of themselves.”
Back in 2001, 11 year old Justin McGetrick fit the bill.
His experiment created a pretty spectacular glow-in-the dark foam. The experience left him with a lasting affection for David Letterman.
“I thought he was a really nice and friendly guy,” said McGetrick
And there was something else that stayed with him.
“After that, I was more involved in school and now that carries over in to my work life,” he said.
Katie Johnson was 13 in 2000 when she did her experiment blending raw liver and hydrogen peroxide to demonstrate catalysts.
The foamy, coffee colored brew generated memorable humor from Letterman.
Katie says that having the courage to be on Letterman set her on a path to other adventures like climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and hiking through Peru.
“It definitely gave me more excitement with life and taking opportunities and seizing them,” she said.
Putting together all the experiments was hard work, but Lee Marek had a mission.
“If you can make science interesting and fun, then maybe students will go into it?” he told us.
12-year-old Kate Burritt always loved language arts, until she was in the last group of kid scientists to go on the show last February doing a gunpowder demonstration.
“Now, I’ve gotten like I really like chemistry and biology ans that sort of stuff,” she said.
Lee Marek says people always ask him if the kids were in danger. He says experiments were checked over and over. There was a fire marshal involved and Marek was always just a few feet from the set.