How would you explain the concept of energy to an 11-year old? Could you make it entertaining while also keeping it accurate?
The Flame Challenge, held every year by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University (yes, directed by the noted actor), challenges scientists to explain a concept as fundamental, and surprisingly complex, as "what is a flame?" to students of this age.
Last year's question was "what is sound?" Past challenges have been to answer the questions: What is time? What is color? What is sleep?
Scientists and 11-year old judges from around the world participate in this challenge. The winners in two separate categories - written and visual explanations - are flown to New York City to be honored and participate in the World Science Festival.
When asked why this age group was chosen to be the judge, Alda says that 11-year old children seem to be the toughest crowd. As one judge from a previous Flame Challenge said: "it's OK to be funny; it's not OK to be silly. We're 11, we're not 7."
I am so proud that the ACS is a sponsor of such a great initiative. If any of you decide to compete, let us know!