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K-12 Education

Telling All About Time

Science Communication: ACS member wins famous actor’s Flame Challenge for explaining science

by William G. Schulz
June 3, 2013

ACS member Maguire's winning entry explaining "What is time?" so an 11-year-old can understand.
Credit: Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

An American Chemical Society member-produced video that answers the question “What is time?”—so an 11-year-old can understand—is one of this year’s winners of the Flame Challenge, a contest sponsored by Stony Brook University’s Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and ACS.

Steven Maguire, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa, in Ontario, is the winner of the video category, as a result of some 20,000 11-year-olds who judged the contest. “Being chosen as a winner by 11-year-olds is a lot more meaningful to me in many ways than if the jury had been my scientific peers,” Maguire says. He received the award—a trophy—on Sunday, June 2, at the World Science Festival, in New York City.

In addition to conducting alternative fuels and hydrogen storage research, Maguire is the creator and host of Science Isn’t Scary, a series of Web videos designed to explain basic, everyday science to the general public. “I started it because I have a love of science, teaching, and acting, and this allowed me to combine all three,” he says.

“I usually run the scripts past a friend for peer-review, but it’s mostly me making them,” Maguire adds. “I double check my facts to make sure I’m not saying anything wrong, write myself a script, and then stand in front of the camera and record until I get all the way through without flubbing a line.”

Alan Alda, a visiting professor at Stony Brook University School of Journalism and a founding member of the center that now bears his name, began the Flame Challenge last year, asking scientists to answer “What is a flame?” so an 11-year-old can understand.

The Flame Challenge will be held again next year, organizers say, with a new question contributed by 11-year-olds. Children can submit their questions at



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