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updated: 2/26/2012 5:26 PM

Fermilab event shows the fun (and funny) side of science

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  • Science teacher Lee Marek of the University of Illinois at Chicago and formerly of Naperville North High School ignites a balloon filled with hydrogen and air during the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.

       Science teacher Lee Marek of the University of Illinois at Chicago and formerly of Naperville North High School ignites a balloon filled with hydrogen and air during the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Stevie Sellers, 8, of Naperville, participates in the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.

       Stevie Sellers, 8, of Naperville, participates in the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • High School science teacher of Karl Craddock of Fremd High School in Palatine shoots toilet paper out over the audience with a leaf blower during the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.

       High School science teacher of Karl Craddock of Fremd High School in Palatine shoots toilet paper out over the audience with a leaf blower during the 25th annual Wonders of Science program Sunday at Fermilab in Batavia.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 
 

Longtime science teacher Lee Marek knows that it can sometimes be challenging to get young people interested in science.

Marek, a former Naperville North High School instructor who now teaches at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that's why he cherishes the "Wonders of Science" event held at Fermilab each year.

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"I love seeing all the kids out in the audience, laughing and joining in with what we're doing," Marek said. "You never know -- going to one event like this might spark an interest in science that carries through into adulthood. And we certainly need more people going into the sciences in this country."

Marek was one of three suburban teachers who led the 25th annual Wonders of Science event Sunday in Fermilab's Ramsey Auditorium in Batavia. Karl Craddock of Fremd High School in Palatine and Mike Heinz of Downers Grove North High School also took the stage.

The educators used high energy, intentionally corny banter and a few moments of pyrotechnics to delight the sold-out crowd, which featured hundreds of children between the ages of 7 and 12.

In one demonstration, Craddock showed how quickly acetone, a material used in most nail-polish removers, can turn Styrofoam into a sticky goo. Marek showed how helium balloons react differently when exposed to flame than hydrogen balloons do. (The key difference: Hydrogen is flammable.)

Interspersed with the real demonstrations were clips of Marek's appearances on David Letterman's late-night talk show. He's appeared on Letterman's show more than 30 times during the past 20 years.

Craddock, Marek and Heinz made frequent use of young volunteers from the audience during the event. Each family received a science kit that allows them to conduct further science experiments at home.

St. Charles resident Anna Tomczak said she and her 8-year-daughter, Alyssa, loved the show.

"She's just starting to take an interest in science at school, so something like this is really helpful," Tomczak said. "I thought they did a great job keeping the demonstrations funny and easy to follow."

Mary Jo Murphy, a Fermilab staff member who coordinated Sunday's event, said everyone involved was happy to see the event hit the 25-year mark.

"It's great to see families coming out to something like this," she said.

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