Flame Challenge 2014
Jan31

Flame Challenge 2014

A love of chemistry burns deep in the heart of Robert E. Buntrock. So much so, the American Chemical Society emeritus member will be fanning the flame of his love for the central science in the 2014 Flame Challenge. This annual challenge, which is entering its third year of sponsorship by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science (CCS) at Stony Brook University, SUNY, and the second year of sponsorship by ACS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asks scientists to answer a seemingly simple scientific question in such a way that an 11-year-old can understand. This year’s question is “What is color?” “Color is very important to me,” Buntrock says. “It helped attract me to chemistry.” So composing his essay shouldn’t be too difficult. The twist: He’s having his grandson’s fifth-grade class prejudge his entry. “My draft has exactly 300 words. We’ll see how much survives my critics,” he says. Patrick Allen, who teaches Buntrock’s grandson Brody at Asa C. Adams Elementary School, in Orono, Maine, has signed up his fifth-grade class to judge Flame Challenge entries, so they will be practicing, too, when Buntrock visits them next week with his entry. The annual competition began in 2012 when Alan Alda posed the question “What is a flame?” to scientists around the world because when he was 11-years-old he asked the question to his science teacher and wasn’t satisfied with the technical answer he received. The challenge question for the past two years has been decided by 11-year-olds across the world. This year, more than 800 questions were submitted by students. Scientists can answer the question either in written form (no more than 300 words) or in visual or video format (less than 6 minutes), and entries are due by March 1. In developing his entry, Buntrock has an extensive scientific background from which to draw. He is a semiretired chemist who does chemical information consulting and book reviews under the company name Buntrock Associates. He graduated with a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1962, and he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry from Princeton University in 1967. Before starting his company, Buntrock worked in industry for nearly 30 years at Air Products & Chemicals and Amoco Corp. A successful researcher, he holds three patents and has almost 200 publications. With such an accomplished science career, Buntrock can’t wait to join in the Flame Challenge excitement. “I may have so much fun,” he says, “that I’ll enter again” next...

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Heirloom Chemistry Set
Dec19

Heirloom Chemistry Set

There’s still one week to get a budding chemist in your life a present they’ll never forget: A real chemistry set that skips cheap plastic equipment and instead features actual glassware and chemicals that can be used in real experiments. Donate to this Kickstarter campaign, and you could be the proud owner of a personalized periodic table in .jpg format ($7.00 donation); a CD-ROM that contains chemicals safety information, three books in .pdf format, and some other bonus features ($20); a kit that will start 10 fires with the enclosed chemicals and spit ($45); a set of 65 chemicals, 56 of which were listed in the 1926 edition of “Chemistry for Boys” from the classic Gilbert chemistry set ($175); or a glassware and equipment set ($225). If your budget is big enough, you could support the campaign by purchasing a fully equipped home lab: the Master Chemistry Set, including “Illustrated Guide to Home Chemistry Experiments” by Robert B. Thompson ($550), or a hand-crafted Heirloom chemistry set ($900, sold out) designed by John Farrell Kuhns who owns the Parkville, Mo.-based science shop H.M.S. Beagle and is the sponsor of the Kickstarter campaign. H.M.S. Beagle is the largest science store in the midwestern U.S. John’s initial goal was to raise $30,000, and when this blog post hit the interwebs, pledges totaled $130,450 from 440 backers. Nine years ago, store owners John and his wife, Carol, opened the doors of H.M.S. Beagle so kids today could experience “real” science. Inspired to become a chemist by the gift of a Gilbert chemistry set that he received for Christmas in 1959, John was disappointed that chemistry sets are few and far between on store shelves now-a-days. The store provides kids (and adults) the ability to explore real science by offering professional-quality lab supplies and equipment, as well as classes, demonstrations, and workshops. When working with chemicals, safety is always a concern. A CD-ROM with the material safety data sheet (MSDS) is included with all chemicals purchased. “As far as I know,” John says, “we’re the only ones putting QR codes directly on the chemical labels.” A quick scan of the code with a cell phone, and the MSDS appears on your smartphone. And any chemical available at H.M.S. Beagle has an MSDS available on the store’s website. Additionally, John tells Newscripts, “for some of the especially dangerous chemicals, we do put first aid information and warnings on the labels.” And if safety is still a concern, “In the cases where the sets are intended for use with young children,” John says, “we will substitute less dangerous chemicals that will be chemically equivalent for the given...

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Flame Challenge 2: And The Winners Are

Some 20,000 11-year-olds voted to determine the winners of the Flame Challenge 2 competition. Depending on the format of scientists’ responses to this year’s question, “What is time?” entries were categorized as written or visual. Nicholas Williams, a retired scientist who spent 33 years working at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), and ACS member Steven Maguire, a Ph.D. candidate in inorganic catalysis at the University of Ottawa, in Ontario, were recognized as the winners on June 2 at the World Science Festival, in New York City. Both winners have experience communicating science, which is the goal of the competition. Williams, the winner of the written category, continues to work with LLNL through its “Fun with Science” outreach program. About teaching science, Williams says, “Teach so it makes sense. Teach so it can be understood. Teach so it can be remembered.” And this he did in his entry. He begins his prose mimicking a nagging parent and their child, “Time to go to school, time to clean your room, time to do this, time to do that.” No wonder 11-year-olds like his answer: He immediately relates to their world before he gets to the tough stuff. Maguire, winner of the visual category, hosts a Web series, “Science Isn’t Scary.” In each video clip, he answers a science question that seems complicated, but by the end of the explanation Maguire has helped the viewer better understand the science behind how or why something works. His series is essentially mini Flame Challenges, so he has experience explaining scientific concepts to an audience in a way that they’ll understand. According to the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, a division of Stony Brook University, in New York, and one of the sponsors of the Flame Challenge, there will be another question from 11-year-olds for scientists to answer in 2014. If you know an 11-year-old who has a suggestion for the Flame Challenge 3, submit their question...

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Flame Challenge 2: The Answers Are In
May02

Flame Challenge 2: The Answers Are In

Last year, actor and science advocate Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science, sponsored the inaugural Flame Challenge by asking scientists around the world to answer “What is a flame?” so that an 11-year-old could understand. This year, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for Advancement of Science have joined in on the sponsorship, and the question scientists have been asked to answer is, “What is time?” Nearly 20,000 students from around the world have voted on the hundreds of submissions that made it through an initial screening by trained scientists, and the six best answers–three videos and three written responses–have been unveiled on the Flame Challenge website. The finalists each use unique examples to explain time. Some mention Einstein’s theory of relativity, some go into the details of the space-time continuum, and some rely on time being an invented concept that keeps track of events. One thing mentioned in each entry: time only has one direction and that’s forward. Registered schools can vote for their favorite answers until May 5. This year, rather than recognizing one overall winner, the best entry for each format will be recognized. That will happen at an event on June 2 at the World Science Festival, in New York...

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