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Alda Center at Stony Brook University Calls for Scientists To Enter The Flame Challenge 2017: What Is Energy?

Flame challenge 2016

Alda Center at Stony Brook University Calls for Scientists To Enter The Flame Challenge 2017: What Is Energy?

Annual contest challenges scientists to explain complex science topics to 11-year-olds

Flame Challenge 2017:  What Is Energy?

STONY BROOK, NY, USA-October 24, 2016 – If this were “Jeopardy,” the clue would be “food, batteries, gasoline, wind, and lightning.”  The answer, in the form of a question of course, would be “What are forms of energy?”  Yet, the more fundamental – and important – question should be exactly “What is energy?”

In fact, it is apparently a question that is on the minds of thousands of children from around the world.  So much so that the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University has announced that “What is Energy?” is the question being issued to scientists across the globe for The Flame Challenge 2017. 

“As far as I know, nothing happens without energy,” said Mr. Alda, the actor, writer, and science advocate who serves as  a visiting professor at the Center and who created the challenge. “Night and day, we’re surrounded by it, moved by it — we live and breathe by it. But what is it?”

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.

Please visit for information about entering the contest (for scientists) and to register your school or fifth/sixth grade class as contest judges (for teachers).

“I hope scientists from every discipline will have a go at answering this fundamental question about energy, said Alda.

“Eleven-year-olds all over the world are waiting to hear the explanation. The kids — and our sponsors, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society — all invite scientists to see if they can explain this complex aspect of nature clearly and vividly. Give it your best shot because, don’t forget, the kids themselves are the judges.”

The Flame Challenge is sponsored in part by the American Chemical Society (ACS) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

“Energy, in all of its many forms, is a fundamental part of science and nature. Yet explaining this concept in a way that 11-year-olds, much less adults, can readily grasp and appreciate is daunting,” says Allison Campbell, Ph.D., president-elect of the American Chemical Society. “Still, I have no doubt that the scientists accepting this year’s Flame Challenge will generate a bevy of amazing responses that could ignite a life-long passion for science among these young and eager students.”

The Flame Challenge offers a $1,000 cash prize for scientists in each category. The winning scientists will also receive a trip to New York City (includes airfare and accommodations for two nights), where they will meet Alan Alda and be honored at the World Science Festival.

Rising to the top of 228 entries from countries as far as Egypt and Australia, the 2016 contest winners were: Nick Weckesser, a physicist from Michigan, and Dr. Bruce Goldstein, a distinguished teacher and Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona.

“The Flame Challenge… doesn’t just challenge scientists, but also traditional education in a way that has the power to inspire and excite kids about science. It makes science approachable,” said Weckesser, whose online persona is Nick Lucid. “Participating in the Flame Challenge was very enlightening and winning it was easily one of the most amazing experiences of my life.”

Dr. Goldstein commented, “I feel that the Flame Challenge is important because science is a mystery to many people, so it is important to be able to communicate it in a way that they will find accessible, and in a way that enables them to appreciate the important role that science plays in their lives.”

The Flame Challenge began in 2011 when Mr. Alda proposed to scientists his childhood query: What is a flame? Since then, children have submitted thousands of questions, out of which the contest questions have been selected. In 2015, scientists wrestled with “What is sleep?” In 2016, they took on “What is sound?”

In 2016, about 26,000 students from 440 different schools participated as judges for The Flame Challenge. The United States was well-represented, with 38 schools registered, including a few from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Additionally, the contest attracted participation from across the globe, with participating schools including: Australia, China, India, New Zealand, and Thailand among others.




About the Flame Challenge
The annual Flame Challenge contest is part of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science’s mission of helping scientists communicate more effectively with the public. Located in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, the Alda Center gives innovative science communication courses for graduate students in the sciences, and conducts workshops around the country. Alan Alda is a founding member of the Alda Center and a visiting professor in the School of Journalism.

The Flame Challenge’s sponsors are both major nonprofit scientific societies. The American Chemical Society is chartered by the U.S. Congress and is a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research. ACS encourages each of its 164,000 members to speak simply about their science and its importance to all of our lives. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest multidisciplinary scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, was founded in 1848. It includes some 261 affiliated groups, serving a total of 10 million individuals, and its mission is to “advance science and serve society.”

bout Stony Brook University
Part of the State University of New York system, Stony Brook University encompasses 200 buildings on 1,450 acres. Since welcoming its first incoming class in 1957, the University has grown tremendously, now with more than 25,000 students and 2,500 faculty. Its membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU) places Stony Brook among the top 62 research institutions in North America. U.S. News & World Report ranks Stony Brook among the top 100 universities in the nation and top 40 public universities, and Kiplinger names it one of the 35 best values in public colleges. One of four University Center campuses in the SUNY system, Stony Brook co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, putting it in an elite group of universities that run federal research and development laboratories. A global ranking by U.S. News & World Report places Stony Brook in the top 1 percent of institutions worldwide.  It is one of only 10 universities nationwide recognized by the National Science Foundation for combining research with undergraduate education. As the largest single-site employer on Long Island, Stony Brook is a driving force of the regional economy, with an annual economic impact of $4.65 billion, generating nearly 60,000 jobs, and accounts for nearly 4 percent of all economic activity in Nassau and Suffolk counties, and roughly 7.5 percent of total jobs in Suffolk County.


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