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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Top Five Science Communication Tips From NASA’s FameLab
Mar12

Top Five Science Communication Tips From NASA’s FameLab

Still prepping your video audition for that PBS chemistry show hosting gig? Then you might want to glean some tips from an ongoing NASA competition. It's the NASA Astrobiology FameLab, and it's essentially a search for the next Carl Sagan. FameLab, founded in the U.K. in 2005, is all about the power of words to get the public and stakeholders excited about science. No slides, no graphs allowed in your short presentation. That can be daunting for most scientists, especially the early-career folks FameLab seeks. So FameLab's organizers include a mentoring and training component in the competition. For Friday's preliminary FameLab round at National Geographic in D.C., that mentor was Beth Horner, an award-winning professional storyteller. Last Friday afternoon at NASA headquarters, Horner put 25 young astrobiologists through their storytelling paces. I journeyed to NASA to bring you the top five tips for science communication from her workshop. Here they are: 5) "Never do anything off the cuff. Always plan." It's easy to think that you'll be able to come up with a way to explain your work on the fly, but you're less likely to forget a part of your message if you structure things in advance, Horner says. She showed workshop attendees how to storyboard and led several exercises in which she asked the scientists to write down three lines about something--themselves, a mentor in their field, or key aspects of their research. "That three-line thing is the start of a structure," she said. Questions or issues might come up during your talk that may force you to improvise somewhat, she added, but you should let your structure be a guide so you don't veer off course. 4) "It's not about you. It's about this information you're trying to get across." Horner mentioned this mantra as a way of calming nerves onstage or on camera. 3) "Always try out your material on someone else." Horner always runs story ideas and analogies by colleagues to see what they think. "I ask them, 'Do you care about this?'," she says. "You get in your own head sometimes and it's hard to get out," but an outside perspective can give you clues about what might resonate with a listener and what won't, she says. 2) "Tell a story." Every culture on Earth has a storytelling tradition, Horner says. "That means something," she adds. Stories were a way for people to pass down lessons and traditions, and there's something about their structure that sticks with you. It isn't easy to structure science like a story, but the approach is likely to pay off, she says. 1) "Know your listener and connect with them." Communicating science...

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Chemistry Cartoons For IYC 2011
Sep23

Chemistry Cartoons For IYC 2011

For a little Friday afternoon fun, I thought I’d share some chemistry cartoons that came across the Newscripts desk recently as part of an International Year of Chemistry competition. Sponsored by the Physical & Biophysical Chemistry Division of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the contest asked participants to submit cartoons illustrating a chemical principle “that would be clear and accessible to the general public.” The international panel of judges accepted entries from Jan. 1 to May 31 and awarded prizes during the 43rd IUPAC Congress in Puerto Rico in early August. Even though my personal favorite (shown above to the right) among the six winners didn’t take home the grand prize, it did win a merit award for Bruno Demoro, a graduate student at Uruguay’s University of the Republic. As a physical chemist, I enjoyed the humor, although I suppose the general public might not get the reference to “degenerate” orbitals. Just us geeks here in the Newscripts gang. Five students received merit awards of $100 for their entries, and one lucky winner—high schooler Jessica Hough of Valley Central High, in Montgomery, N.Y., took home $1,000 for her illustration entitled “Chemical Attraction.” On the basis of the success of the contest, IUPAC’s Physical & Biophysical Chemistry Division says it plans to run an annual student chemistry cartoon competition. So check in with the organization early next year for...

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Chemistry Cartoons For IYC 2011
Sep23

Chemistry Cartoons For IYC 2011

For a little Friday afternoon fun, I thought I’d share some chemistry cartoons that came across the Newscripts desk recently as part of an International Year of Chemistry competition. Sponsored by the Physical & Biophysical Chemistry Division of the International Union of Pure & Applied Chemistry (IUPAC), the contest asked participants to submit cartoons illustrating a chemical principle “that would be clear and accessible to the general public.” The international panel of judges accepted entries from Jan. 1 to May 31 and awarded prizes during the 43rd IUPAC Congress in Puerto Rico in early August. Even though my personal favorite (shown above to the right) among the six winners didn’t take home the grand prize, it did win a merit award for Bruno Demoro, a graduate student at Uruguay’s University of the Republic. As a physical chemist, I enjoyed the humor, although I suppose the general public might not get the reference to “degenerate” orbitals. Just us geeks here in the Newscripts gang. Five students received merit awards of $100 for their entries, and one lucky winner—high schooler Jessica Hough of Valley Central High, in Montgomery, N.Y., took home $1,000 for her illustration entitled “Chemical Attraction.” On the basis of the success of the contest, IUPAC’s Physical & Biophysical Chemistry Division says it plans to run an annual student chemistry cartoon competition. So check in with the organization early next year for...

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Who Knew Energy Research Was Adorable?
May19

Who Knew Energy Research Was Adorable?

We here at Newscripts love a good kooky video about science. We also love a good voting war. The ongoing Life at the Frontiers of Energy Research Video Contest has both. As part of the buildup to the Department of Energy’s Science For Our Nation’s Energy Future forum, to be held May 25–27 in Washington, D.C., the agency challenged its Energy Frontier Research Centers to a video face-off. DOE asked researchers at the 46 centers to produce entertaining, accessible clips about the science and innovation going on in their labs. The videos were recently assessed by a panel of judges, and the top five were announced. You can see the winners here, but I’ve included one of them in this post, “Carbon in Underland,” from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Who knew carbon dioxide and carbon sequestration could be so cute? That CO2, he’s so supercritical. But that’s not all! I said the competition is "ongoing," so DOE now needs your help to award one of the 26 entries the People’s Choice Award. They’re not all adorable, but some of them are pretty well done. To vote, click here. The winner, along with the top five entries, will be honored during the energy forum in DC. For those who don’t know, the Energy Frontier Research Centers program launched in 2009, and some of the centers are funded with money from that year’s American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. The goal of the centers is to tackle challenges in clean and renewable...

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Photo Finish
Oct28

Photo Finish

First of all, a huge "Thank you!" to all who entered C&EN's inaugural photo contest. We launched the photo contest on Flickr with the goal of creating a pool of chemistry images that anyone could benefit from (hence the Creative Commons requirement). I was excited when we had 50 entries. Then we had over 100. The final tally--235.  I’m absolutely thrilled by the enthusiastic response we received in the number and variety of submissions. So many of you truly have an appreciation for the art in your work. I hope people continue to contribute to the pool and submit entries to our future contests. And now, without further ado, the envelope, please... First place, and the winner of $250, is Jennifer Atchison's SEM image of silicon nanocones: Second Place ($150 prize): Robert D'Ordine's water vortex: And Third Place ($50 prize): Ryan O'Donnell's colorful birefringence pattern: Read more about these images and check out the honorable mentions on C&EN Online. All will be appearing in the November 1 issue of...

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