Flame Challenge Reimagined | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 90 Issue 19 | p. 2 | Letters
Issue Date: May 7, 2012

Flame Challenge Reimagined

Department: Letters

Alan Alda’s Flame Challenge is commendable for at least two reasons: One, it is an effort to interest young people in science, and two, the topic of flames or combustion meets this purpose admirably (C&EN, March 26, page 64). It is interesting that the renowned scientist and educator Michael Faraday also used the subject of combustion to interest young people in science more than 150 years ago. His Christmas Lectures, given to young people at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, included six lectures on “The Chemical History of a Candle.” These lectures were transcribed, later published, and are now available as free downloads from g­utenberg.org/ebooks/14474, books.google.com, and other Internet sources. They are enjoyable to review even today.

Readers will enjoy examining the lectures to learn how a highly regarded scientist communicated in the past. Participants in the Flame Challenge will also enjoy the lectures and may receive a partial answer to the question posed by Alda to his teacher so long ago: What is a flame? Some of the experiments described seem hazardous, so they should not be attempted by inexperienced people without competent supervision.

I have often thought that the content of the published lectures would be appropriate for a one-person act, to be given perhaps during the Christmas season. Apparently, Charles Dickens and William Crookes also saw value in Faraday’s lectures. How about it, Mr. Alda?

By H. James Harwood
Stow, Ohio

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
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