Announcing Flame Challenge 2
Nov07

Announcing Flame Challenge 2

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...

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Flame Challenge Winner Announced
Jun04

Flame Challenge Winner Announced

Today’s post is by Emily Bones, an assistant production editor and Newscripts contributor here at C&EN. In March, actor and science advocate Alan Alda, along with the Center for Communicating Science (CCS), a division of the State University of New York, Stony Brook, challenged the world to answer a seemingly simple question: “What is a flame?” Submissions, which were varied from prose writing to video to illustration, were due April 2. A total of 822 entries were received. It took two months for an expert panel of scientists and 11-year-olds from around the world to thoroughly review entries and select the best one. And the winner, announced before the “Cool Jobs” session at the World Science Festival in New York City on Saturday, is Ben Ames, a Missouri native working on his Ph.D. in quantum optics at the University of Innsbruck, in Austria. His entry is an animated video that defines flame-related terms and then brings all the concepts together in the form of a song. Ames grew up in a musical household but has been inspired by Thomas Edison since childhood, which led him to major in physics in college at the University of Utah. Watch his winning video here: Participants had one month to formulate a response to Alda’s question. A panel of 11 scientists made up of SUNY Stony Brook scientists and three members of the American Chemical Society narrowed the field down to 535 acceptable explanations. These entries were then sent to more than 130 schools around the world where about 6,100 11-year-olds narrowed the entries down to the best six. The finalists’ entries were posted on flamechallenge.org. Two are written explanations, one is a graphic, and three are videos. Eleven-year-olds from around the world voted on the final six via e-mail to determine the winning entry. Ames was recognized at a session for kids, says Valeri Lantz-Gefroh, the workshop coordinator at CCS. “This challenge isn’t just a contest for kids, though. It’s a contest for scientists to communicate clearly.” On Friday, an event highlighting lessons learned from the Flame Challenge took place at the World Science Festival. Alda shared with audience members some intriguing and surprising experiences from the Flame Challenge, including how metaphors are useful tools when communicating science and why it’s so important to define terms so your audience can truly understand the topic on hand. Because the Flame Challenge was such a success, CCS is going to issue another challenge next year with a question from a child aged 10 to 12. This year’s question has been on Alda’s mind since he was 11, but he’s opening the platform to the...

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Alan Alda Wants YOU … To Describe A Flame
Mar20

Alan Alda Wants YOU … To Describe A Flame

This post was written by Emily Bones, a member of the Editing & Production group here at C&EN. At the ripe young age of 11, actor and science advocate Alan Alda asked his science teacher, “What is a flame?” And she responded, “It’s oxidation.” To an 11-year-old, that doesn’t mean much. And at 76, Alda’s still searching for a suitable response. Along with the State University of New York, Stony Brook’s Center for Communicating Science, Alda has presented the world with a challenge, appropriately called the Flame Challenge. The task is simple: “Answer the question—‘What is a flame?’—in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible and maybe even fun,” flamechallenge.org states. In an editorial in Science this month, Alda reminds readers that “scientists urgently need to be able to speak with clarity to funders, policymakers, students, the general public, and even other scientists." In the article, he announces the challenge to promote science talk and avoid science jargon. Answers to the burning question are due to flamechallenge.org by April 2. Entries can be in the form of a recorded explanation, a written response, or an illustration. The winner will receive a VIP pass to the 5th annual World Science Festival in New York City, held May 30 to June 3, organized by the nonprofit Science Festival Foundation. To support the mission of the challenge, after a team of well-seasoned scientists has screened the entries for accuracy, a panel of 11-year-olds will choose the final winner. To learn how to be a panelist, contact communicatingscience@stonybrook.edu. And next week, at the ACS national meeting in San Diego, attendees can answer the question by visiting booth 638 in the exposition. There will be video cameras on hand to record answers, and these recordings can be submitted to the Flame Challenge. We hope Newscripts readers will enter. After all, who better to explain a flame than a...

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Alan Alda Takes On Marie Curie
Jun01

Alan Alda Takes On Marie Curie

Alan Alda, the actor and author, has added another credential to his CV: science playwright. Tonight his first play, "Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie," is being read as part of the opening night festivities of the World Science Festival at Alice Tully Hall in New York City. The play focuses on the eight years of Curie's life between winning her Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and her Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. Actors Maggie Gyllenhaal, Liev Schreiber, David Morse, Bill Camp, Allison Janney, and Mireille Enos are among those lending their talents to this evening's reading. "I’ve worked hard to make the science in Radiance as accurate as possible, and I’m always grateful when a scientist can help me make it even clearer," says Alda in a Q&A over at DOE's Energy Blog. "But I try not to have a single line of science (or anything else) in the play that isn’t dramatic, moving the story forward by having a character actively trying to achieve his or her objective." If any Newscripts readers are planning to check out tonight's event, we'd love to hear what you think. The tickets, which start at $250, were out of the Newscripts gang's...

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