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Winner of “The Flame Challenge” to Be Announced June 2

Six finalists have been announced for “The Flame Challenge,” a month-long contest spearheaded by Alan Alda and the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University to answer the question, “What is a flame?” in a way that is clear, engaging and meaningful to an 11-year old. The winning entry, chosen by 11-year olds from around the world, will be announced at the World Science Festival in New York City on Saturday, June 2, at 1 pm at a “Cool Jobs” event at The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College on East 68th Street.

Famed actor Alan Alda, a founding member of the Center for Communicating Science and a visiting professor in the School of Journalism at Stony Brook, asked that same question as an 11-year old and was dismayed with his teacher’s answer, “It’s oxidation.” Alda discussed The Flame Challenge on “The Colbert Report” on May 30 (see video below), and will hold a panel discussion as part of the World Science Festival on June 1, “Alan Alda’s Burning Question: What is a Flame?” where he will report on the intriguing and sometimes surprising results learned from The Flame Challenge at the Paley Media Center on East 52nd Street from 4 pm to 5 pm. More information and tickets to the June 1 and June 2 events can be found at

“That was a discouraging moment for me personally, but decades later I see the failure to communicate science with clarity as far more serious for society,” said Alda, referring to his teacher’s response in his guest editorial, “The Flame Challenge,” appearing in the March 2 issue of the journal Science, which kicked off the contest.

Finalists include: Richard Frauenglass, Entry 317, Huntington, NY; Nathan Anderson, Entry 592, Seattle, Washington; Larry Li and Villian Lo, Entry 753, Cambridge, England; Rachel D’Erminio and Ted Londner, Entry 765, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Ben Ames, Entry 794, Sistrans, Austria; and Simon Schreier, Entry 800, Central, South Carolina.

Garnering worldwide interest, The Flame Challenge received more than 800 entries from around the world, including such far-off places as Australia, China, England, India, Lebanon, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia and more — 31 countries in all.

The entries ranged from single sentence answers to pages of prose; from poems, including one shaped like a flame to live-action or cartoon videos with special effects. All entries were vetted by scientists for accuracy and then judged by 11-year olds from 131 schools worldwide. Six finalists were chosen – two written responses, two cartoon video narratives, one poster and one live-action video. The judging culminated with a Worldwide Assembly, where students from 10 judging schools from around the world connected with Alda and fellow 11-year olds via live web stream to discuss and debate the finalists before casting their final votes.

The Center for Communicating Science, located in Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, gives workshops and presentations for scientists at universities, laboratories and meetings around the country. At Stony Brook it has developed a series of innovative Communicating Science courses being taken for credit by master’s and PhD students from more than a dozen science disciplines.

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