“What is sleep?”—a question pondered by 11-year-old students—was taken on by graduate students and senior researchers in the 2015 Flame Challenge put on by Stony Brook University. The contest was initially set in motion by Alan Alda, the writer, actor, science advocate and Water Mill resident, in 2012 by using a question that he had posed as an 11-year-old to one of his teachers: “What is a flame?”
The goal of this contest is to encourage clarity in communicating scientific topics, something individuals submitting their work needed to master to appeal to their 11-year-old judges. Alda stands by the importance of conveying complex scientific information in ways that non-scientific minded or developing minds could understand. This year more than 20,000 children from around the globe were given the responsibility of selecting the topic and the winning entries for both the written and video categories.
The Flame Challenge awarded both Brandon Aldinger of Renfrew, Pennsylvia, and Eric C. Galicia of Des Plaines, Illinois, with a $1,000 prize. Alda and the Alan Alda Center of Communicating Science recognized Aldinger’s and Galicia’s success at the World Science Festival in New York City this past Sunday, May 31.
Aldinger received the Flame Challenge award for his written submission. He studied chemistry at Penn State University where he was also involved with the Nittany Chemical Society. Aldinger went on to receive a Ph.D. in physical chemistry at Cornell University. His time at Cornell left him with an award for his teaching assistance in an analytical chemistry course while conducting research on the surface chemistry of silicon etching. Aldinger led several outreach events on fluorescent minerals and chemical demonstrations by working with the Cornell Center for Materials Research Educational Office. He now works for the small, veteran-owned business, Ibis Tek, where he designs transparent armor that is used to protect soldiers in their vehicles.
Galicia, awarded first place for his video entry, attends the Illinois Institute of Technology where he is a candidate in the Master of Health Physics Program, which provides an in-depth exploration of quantum physics, radiation physics and biology in conjunction with an emphasis on analytical and communication skills. Galicia holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and has an interest in science and film-making that stemmed from his grade school fascination with science fiction books and films. Galicia’s film can be watched at: https://vimeo.com/119611269 .
In starting this contest, Alda reflected, “The idea was to urge scientists to communicate more clearly. I didn’t realize what an extraordinary learning experience it was going to be for the eleven-year-olds. By now, tens of thousands of kids from all over the world have excitedly delved into the mysteries of nature as they’ve judged the scientists’ entries.”
The Flame Challenge will proceed with its next installation in 2016 where young students will continue to choose the new topic for developing scientists to explore and present.