Category → Contests
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 City.
You’re Bradley Cooper. People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive in 2011. Comedic heartthrob from “The Hangover,” “Wedding Crashers,” Alias, and “Wet Hot American Summer.” But now, almost suddenly, you’ve starred in the dramedy “Silver Linings Playbook,” which garnered you an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. So you have to write a thank you speech, you know, just in case. Where do you begin?!
One good place to start is a website created by Rebecca Rolfe–a master’s student at Georgia Tech who is studying verbal and physical expression of gratitude. Rolfe watched and analyzed all 207 available (out of 300 total) Oscar acceptance speeches since 1953. Not only does her website help write a speech and compare it with those of past Oscar winners, but it also provides the data to answer questions such as: How often do people cry during their acceptance speeches? How many winners thank their publicists before thanking their moms? And who indulges in the time-honored tradition of being cut off by the conductor?
Here’s a sampling of stats the Newscripts gang found intriguing:
- Despite the omnipresent Oscars phrase, “I’d like to thank the Academy,” only 40% of winners actually thank the Academy. To give some perspective, 48% thank their families.
- Although 21% of actors and actresses get a little teary, they’ve only gone soft recently — 71% of Oscar tears have been shed since 1995.
- 61% thanked their production reps. In fact, Harvey Weinstein is the most thanked person in the history of Oscar speeches. By comparison, 5% thanked God. And coming in close behind at 3% is “everybody” — that’s us!
- Winners tend to get increasingly personal over the course of their speech, with 40% choosing to thank their families toward the end.
It only takes some YouTubers being in the right place at the right time to prove how ridiculously far owls can rotate their heads — up to 270 degrees in either direction, in fact. But it took a team of neurological imaging experts and medical illustrators to figure out both how this flexibility feat is anatomically possible and how to effectively illustrate it.
The Johns Hopkins University team took first place in the poster and graphics portion of the International Science & Engineering Visualization Challenge competition, which was sponsored by Science magazine and the National Science Foundation. Led by medical illustrator Fabian de Kok-Mercado, now at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the team used angiography, X-ray imaging, and CT scans to study the bone structure and vasculature of the heads and necks of snowy, barred, and great-horned owls.
Their study shows that owls’ transverse foramina–the holes in the vertebrae that allow arteries to line the spine–are much larger than the blood vessels, allowing more wiggle room for twisting and turning. And they found blood-pooling mechanisms and backup arteries that help direct blood to the brain when the main arteries are pinched in the turning process.
The People’s Choice award in the same posters and graphics portion of the competition goes to designers who are likely SimCity fans. Or perhaps it was the voters who are fans of the city-building video game series? We digress. A team from the European Centre for Environment & Human Health at the University of Exeter Medical School and Plymouth University designed an entire town to represent possible routes to sustainable pharmaceutical use: Continue reading →
Back in September, I posted here on Newscripts about a contest being hosted by Chemical Abstracts Service, a division of the American Chemical Society that collects and organizes publicly disclosed information about chemical compounds.
CAS asked participants to guess when the 70 millionth substance would be added to its database. The person who submitted the answer (date and time) closest to reality would take home an e-book reader.
Well, I’m a bit behind in reporting the outcome. But better late than never, right?
The 70 millionth compound was added to CAS’s Registry on Dec. 6, 2012. The winner? Lucky grad student Tom Pearson of Nottingham Trent University, in England. An organic chemist, Pearson is developing new ways of sticking sugar units together with an eye toward drug synthesis. And he received a Kindle Fire for his correct prediction.
Pearson doesn’t normally enter contests, so this is the first time he’s won anything, he tells me. “I had 10 minutes free in my day and thought I’d enter,” he says of the contest.
But Pearson’s win wasn’t complete luck. Like every true science nerd, he used some math and logic to arrive at his winning entry: “I basically just stared at the counter for a couple of minutes and tried to work out the average rate at which substances were being added. After working out the rate, I then determined the date that the 70 millionth substance would be added.”
CAS added the 50 millionth substance to its registry back on Sept. 7, 2009. On the basis of these dates, and doing a little math of my own, I estimate that CAS adds about 16,900 new chemical substances to its database per day. That’s about 1 new compound every 5 seconds. Yowza!!
The 70 millionth substance, given CAS Registry number 1411769-41-9, is a pyrazolyl piperazine disclosed in a patent filed with the Korean Intellectual Property Office. It’s a calcium-ion channel blocker with potential applications in treating pain, as well as conditions such as dementia.
A few fun facts from CAS about its registry:
In 2012, 63% of patents covered by CAS originated in Asia.
More than 70% of new substances added to the registry from the literature come from patents.
Today’s post is by Emily Bones, a production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN.
“What is time?” is the question actor Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science (CCS) want scientists around the world to answer with a response an 11-year-old can understand. Last year, Alda launched an annual challenge by posing to the world “What is a flame?” The burning question had been on his mind since he was 11 years old, and his science teacher answered him with a technical response that he didn’t understand.
CCS, which is a division of Stony Brook University in New York, decided to keep the tradition going and this year invited 11-year-olds across the U.S. to suggest a new question. After narrowing more than 300 entries down to five possibilities, 10- to 12-year-olds voted “What is time?” as the next seemingly simple question to answer.
Scientists who want to compete in this year’s challenge may submit a written (less than 300 words) or visual (Vimeo video, less than 6 minutes long) answer. Click here for details and an entry form. This time around, there will be two winners: one for each of the categories. Answers are due by 11:59 PM EST on March 1, 2013. To see what creative answers scientists came up with last year, check out the winning entry, those that were finalists, and those that were honorable mentions.
As for who qualifies to compete, CCS says, “We define a scientist as someone who has, or is in the process of getting, a graduate degree in a science (including health sciences, engineering and mathematics), or who is employed doing scientific work, or who is retired from doing scientific work.”
Once a submission is received, it will be screened for accuracy by a panel of CCS-selected scientists before it can move to the next stage of student judging. CCS is looking for 11-year-olds interested in judging. If you know a class of fourth, fifth, or sixth graders who want to participate, get them involved.
Scientists, get creative and send in your answers. Time is ticking away!
Today’s post is by Emily Bones, an assistant production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN.
Although Election Day got top billing, it’s not the only vote-centric event of the week. As of Monday, the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), a division of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, opened the polls for choosing the next Flame Challenge question.
When he was 11 years old, Alan Alda, an actor and the founder of CCS, asked the burning question, “What is a flame?” He never received an answer he thought was satisfactory, so last year he challenged scientists across the world to submit answers in a way that an 11-year-old could understand. The winner, Ben Ames, created an animated video that defines flame-related terms and then brings all the concepts together in the form of a song.
This year, the newly established tradition will continue: Another question will be posed to scientists around the globe. From June to October of this year, more than 300 potential questions were submitted online to CCS by inquisitive 11-year-olds. The pool of questions has now been narrowed down to five possibilities, “which might look simple at first glance, but would offer good scientific complexity, like the question from last year,” explains Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, workshop coordinator at CCS. And the five contenders are:
1.) Does the universe have a known end?
2.) How does the brain store all of that information?
3.) What is time?
4.) How do you hear your thoughts in your head?
5.) What is color?
Polls are open until November 16, at 5 PM EST. The catch? Only 10- to 12-year-olds can vote. They can do so by clicking here. Votes can be submitted by individuals or as a class.
The final question will be announced on Dec. 11, which will mark the start of the second challenge. So scientists, get ready to answer one of these questions—submissions are due by March 1, 2013. And if you have or know a 10- to 12-year-old, now’s the time to get them voting.
After losing out to physicists last year, chemists have stepped it up to win the 2012 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, organized by Science magazine. More specifically, Peter Liddicoat, a materials scientist at the University of Sydney, in Australia, won with his dance rendition of the chemical nanostructure of aerospace aluminum alloys.
“The dance describes the classic engineering problem of combining lightness and strength and how it could be solved using atom scale microscopy to produce a super-alloy,” explains Liddicoat, who played “The Scientist” in the circus-style silent movie. Dancers embodying lightness and strength transform into a super-alloy–a lightweight aluminum alloy with the strength of heavy steel, whose crystal lattice structure is represented in a group dance number.
“We’ve had an amazing response,” Liddicoat says. “My favorite part of the movie is where I pull out the baby-sized microscope to study a juggling ball–that, and spinning the rainbow umbrella.” See for yourself:
Two contests are afoot that chemists—particularly grad students—shouldn’t miss. Why? Well, there’s the eternal glory that comes with being victorious. But there’s also some cash and an iPad in it for the winners. And let’s face it, grad students can use all the free cash and prizes they can get.
Contest 1: Dance Your Ph.D.
Newscripts publicized this competition, sponsored by AAAS, earlier this year. The deadline is fast approaching. If you want to enter, you need to translate your Ph.D. project into a dance by October 1. There are four categories into which twinkle-toed grad students can place their submissions: chemistry, physics, biology, and social sciences. The top entry in each category gets $500. But that’s not all!
The overall winner gets another $500 as well as travel and accomodation to attend TEDxBrussels, in Belgium, on Nov. 12. There, the danciest dancer—the Gene Kelly of Ph.D.s, if you will–will be crowned for all to see. The Newscripts gang would like to see chemists once again take the top prize, proving without a doubt that the central science is where it’s at, so get your submissions in soon!
Contest 2: 70 Millionth Substance Contest
According to the counter here, Chemical Abstracts Service–the division of the American Chemical Society that finds, collects, and organizes chemical information–has now entered more than 68,447,000 substances in its registry. To celebrate the day when the organization will add its 70 millionth chemical substance to the database, CAS is holding a little guessing competition. The division thinks the organic or inorganic entity in question will be registered either at the end of this year or early next year.
Your job is to predict the date and time the lucky substance gets added. Prizes vary depending on when you submit your answer, but you could potentially win an iPad, Nook, or Kindle Fire. If the precise date and time isn’t guessed correctly, CAS goes into “The Price Is Right” mode and gives the award to the guess closest to the date and time the substance was added without going over. Take a look at the rules for entry here. And study them closely, Daniel-san.
You MUST put your guess into the contest form by Nov. 16 or by the time the counter reaches 69.8 million substances—whichever comes first.
CAS’s registry hit 50 million back on Sept. 7, 2009. You can read about that milestone here.
Do us proud, Newscripters. And if you win, do let us know (we’ll only take a little bit of the credit).
I’m not sure what type of spam the title of this post is going to attract, but I thought it might also catch the eyes of folks who might otherwise skip over offerings from the Newscripts gang (who are not, by the way, the subject of the titular pictures).
You might not be aware of it, but one little online corner of C&EN, known as Reel Science, is devoted to spurring discussion of how science is presented in film. Reel Science reviews new movies coming out in theaters and also recommends science-y films out on DVD.
Jovana Grbić, a contributing editor for Reel Science, recently filed a recommendation for the documentary “Dirty Pictures” about psychedelics maker and garage chemist Alexander Shulgin. She suggested that we give away the screener copy she watched to review the film.
So we came up with a little contest to decide who gets the screener. Reel Science has gotten woefully behind on Recommendations. You can see from the list here that there was a two-year gap between our last recommendation and “Dirty Pictures.” So here’s the contest: Suggest a film for us to recommend in the comments. Science doesn’t have to be its main focus, but the flick should have some relevance to science or scientists; it can even be sci-fi. Also, the movie should be something we haven’t already reviewed or recommended, and we should be able to get the film via Netflix or some other easy-to-access (and inexpensive) source.
I’ll select a winner by the end of the week and write up a recommendation of the person’s suggested film (not by the end of the week, but sometime soon). We have only one screener, but we may still recommend other films from the suggestions, so you’d win our thanks, which is good too, right?
UPDATE: Thanks to the folks who wrote in. I loved all of your suggestions, but we’ve only got one DVD, and that goes to Chemjobber. I can’t believe we haven’t already recommended “Lorenzo’s Oil.” I look forward to watching it and writing it up.
The 44th International Chemistry Olympiad concluded a week ago today, and it was truly an amazing experience!
The team from South Korea won four golds, the most of any country during this year’s competition. The U.S. team earned a gold and three silver medals. For more highlights, see C&EN’s news article in this week’s issue.
Congratulations to everyone who earned medals, but like ACS president-elect Marinda Li Wu said to the students during the closing ceremony: “No matter whether you bring home a medal or not, you will all carry back some precious memories that should last a lifetime. Furthermore, you made some personal connections and bonds this week that will become part of your own valuable network. Maintaining and continuing to build that network can help you succeed no matter what your ultimate career and profession.”
With that said, let’s take a look back and see how much fun the students had during their stay in the nation’s capital: