When television producer Chuck Lorre put The Big Bang Theory on the air in 2007, he had no idea it would inspire kids to study science. The sitcom portrays the lives of young scientists navigating the everyday world while getting along with their less nerdy neighbors.

“It’s more than we could have ever hoped for,” says Lorre, the show’s co-creator, about reports he reads that an increase in the number of STEM students — those studying science, technology, engineering and math — is, in some cases, attributed to kids watching the show.

So Lorre has gone a giant step further in fostering the fascination with science. He has created The Big Bang Theory Scholarship Endowment to underwrite an initial group of 20 UCLA STEM students, adding five more every year. The fund, now totaling $4 million, is designed to continue in perpetuity. About 50 people — including the show’s producers, as well as cast and crew members and employees of corporate partners CBS and Warner Bros. — have contributed. The scholarship recipients are chosen based on both merit and need.

”The series began when those in this year’s incoming freshman class were about 10 years old,” Lorre says. Many grew up with it, so it’s not impossible that the show has influenced their career choices.

But why lend support at UCLA and not Caltech (where the show’s two physicists work)? Lorre says that actress Mayim Bialik ’00, Ph.D. ’07, who portrays Dr. Amy Fowler, and UCLA Professor David Saltzberg, the show’s real-life science adviser, influenced the choice of universities.

“The geography was also important to us,” he says. “We wanted to participate closely; it’s not simply about writing checks. We hope to have the Big Bang scholars on the set, meet them and make ourselves accessible. We can’t help them with their studies, though Mayim might be able to, but we want to encourage and support them.”

Lorre says Saltzberg will play a key role with the students. “He’s on the ground, looking these kids in the eye and seeing what they need. Having him report back to us about how we can be helpful is a huge asset.

“We have all been given a gift with The Big Bang Theory. This is our opportunity to give back.”