Alan Alda announced the winners of Stony Brook University’s Flame Challenge contest today at the World Science Festival in New York City. The winners, Bruce Goldstein of Arizona and Nick Lucid of Michigan, each received a $1,000 prize, as well as congratulations from Alda and hundreds of children at the “What Is Sound?” event today at the World Science Festival in Manhattan. The Flame Challenge asked scientists to answer the question “what is sound?” in a way that would interest and enlighten 11-year-olds. More than 26,000 schoolchildren judged the entries, including children in Australia, Canada, China, England, Germany, India, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Pakistan, Sultunate of Oman, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Italy, as well as in the United States.
Lucid, a physicist from Michigan who enticed kids with his descriptions of air wiggles, was the winner in the video category. Lucid has an MS in physics from Eastern Michigan University and has been teaching college physics and explaining complex science in a clear and vivid way to the public on his YouTube channel: The Science Asylum. “It’s important for scientists to be challenged as a part of the scientific process” Lucid explains. “The Flame Challenge carries that philosophy into science education. Whether they’re competing or just watching, it helps scientists improve their educational ability by reminding them they weren’t always adults…If that science is also communicated in an entertaining way, it has the power to inspire children and adults alike to pay attention to the world around them and maybe even pursue science as a career. As a society, we need effective scientific communication as we face future challenges.” His advice to scientists out there: “the best way to teach kids is to find your inner child.”
Goldstein, the winner in the written category, painted a picture of sound by describing vibrations on a drum. Bruce is a distinguished teacher and Associate Professor Emeritus of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh and Adjunct Professor of Psychology at the University of Arizona. He believes 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…I hope the Flame Challenge helps students experience the excitement of science and see the beauty of science.” As a college professor his biggest challenge in entering the contest was not just describing sound in and accurate and exciting way, but, “writing in a way that would be interesting to 11 year-olds, while not talking down to them.”
The winning entries, as well as other finalists, can be seen at the Flame Challenge website. The annual contest is run by Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, named for Alda, an acclaimed actor, writer and science advocate who is also a visiting professor at Stony Brook.