Flame Challenge 2: And The Winners Are
Jun07

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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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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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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