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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I’d Like To Thank The Academy, Nay, Harvey Weinstein
Feb22

I’d Like To Thank The Academy, Nay, Harvey Weinstein

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.                                     -1976 Best Director John G. Alvidsen (for "Rocky") was the first winner in recorded Oscar speech history to thank his children. Incidentally, he was also the first to thank his psychiatrist. - Cuba Gooding Jr., Adrien Brody, Hillary Swank, and Jennifer Hudson are the lucky four to have gotten a bit choked up AND to have been cut off by the conductor. Considering only nine people have gotten cut off ever, we can only guess that the conductor is not terribly fond of drawn-out crying jags. -47% of women cradle their statuettes with two hands, whereas 26% of men instead hoist theirs up in the air with one arm. - Actors prefer to call their work a "film"; directors, a "movie." - The speeches are actually getting longer: In the 1960s, speeches ran about 40 seconds. Now, the average speech is on the verge...

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2012 Visualization Challenge Winners Announced
Feb06

2012 Visualization Challenge Winners Announced

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:                                  The focal point is the river, with the city's pharmaceutical companies, health providers, and residents all part of the twisted network where pharmaceuticals enter and end up. The poster is meant as a tool for policymakers to develop means of making the cycle more sustainable. And it's already being used as such, according to team member and graphic designer Will Stahl-Timmins, who told Science magazine that the poster was covered in sticky notes by the end of a recent meeting with scientists and legislators. But these are just a few of the awardees that stood out to Newscripts. Check out all the winners of the visualization challenge--including those for illustrations, games and apps, and video categories--here....

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Chemical Abstracts Service’s 70 Millionth Substance
Jan21

Chemical Abstracts Service’s 70 Millionth Substance

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...

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Flame Challenge 2: And The Question Is …
Dec12

Flame Challenge 2: And The Question Is …

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!...

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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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