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“What is Energy?” – Alan Alda Names Flame Challenge Champs

Alan Alda, actor, author, and founder of the Alda Center and The Flame Challenge

“Without energy, a ball won’t roll, a car won’t drive and a babysitter won’t get off the couch. Energy is what get things moving.”  Those were just some of the examples used to tackle the question “What is Energy?” in the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science‘s  sixth annual Flame Challenge.  This year’s question was posed to scientists by 11-year olds from around the world.

After reviewing hundreds of written and visual submissions from scientists based in the United States, Germany, Australia and beyond, Alan Alda, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University and intermediate school student judges announced the winners of The Flame Challenge contest at the World Science Festival in New York City on Saturday, June 3. Hannah Holt , a civil engineer from Hillsboro, Oregon was selected as the winner of the written contest and Johanna Howes, PhD, a chemist and freelance science writer from Mangerton, Australia was selected for her visual submission. Howes is an Alda Center workshop alumnae.

Howes and Alda
Visual submission winner Johanna Howes and Alan Alda

“The Alda Center training works, and 21,000 kids around the world put their stamp of approval on it!” says Alan Alda of the winning entries. “The Alda Center for Communicating Science is working to better the role of women in science, and I’m delighted to see these two women being chosen by classrooms far and wide as expert communicators.”

Each were awarded a $1,000 cash prize along with a trophy presented by Alan Alda, actor, author, and founder of the Alda Center and The Flame Challenge.

An international contest now in its sixth year, The Flame Challenge is judged by 11-year-olds around the world, challenging scientists at every level – from graduate students to senior researchers – to answer and communicate familiar yet complex concepts in a way that is understandable to an 11-year-old. Entries can be submitted in written or visual format.

“I’m the mother of young children. When I think about energy, usually I’m thinking about how I wish I had more of it!” says Hannah Holt. “There’s something special about learning a new concept. If students have some degree of that ‘ah-ha!’ excitement by reading my entry, I’ll be happy. If that excitement translates into them researching more of their own questions, I’ll be even more thrilled.”

Holt and Alda
Written submission winner Hannah Holt and Alan Alda

“I was fortunate to be a part of the workshops and talks Mr. Alan Alda presented last year on his visit to Canberra and [Australian National University]. He talked about The Flame Challenge and encouraged us to enter, so I did,” says Johanna Howes.  “I’m hoping that students can start to see energy everywhere. Science is not just for the classroom or a lab – you can apply it to everything.” Dr. Howes also maintains a YouTube channel, Class 509: Science History.

The Flame Challenge is sponsored in part by the American Chemical Society (ACS), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and IBM Research. For more information, visit .


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