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2014 Flame Challenge Winners

by Emily Bones
August 11, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 32

Credit: Kelly Golob
Golob (from left), Alda, and Cowern.
This is a photo of the 2014 Flame Challenge winners with Alan Alda.
Credit: Kelly Golob
Golob (from left), Alda, and Cowern.

In 2012, “M*A*S*H” star turned science communication advocate Alan Alda posed a question to the world: What is a flame? The burning question had bothered him since he was 11 years old. He had asked his teacher but received an unsatisfactory answer, so he decided to start the Flame Challenge competition to improve science communication.

For the past two years, the competition has asked 11-year-olds to suggest a topic for scientists to explain. This year’s Flame Challenge question was “What is color?” And on June 1, the winning video and prose explanations were announced at the World Science Festival in New York City.

Dianna Cowern, who works in the physics outreach office at the University of California, San Diego, and has a YouTube channel called Physics Girl, was recognized for the best video entry. Her background is in physics, but a “benefit of this competition,” she says, is that “it involves all sciences.”

Melanie Golob, who disseminates scientific terminology in her professional life, got the nod for the best written entry. She checked a book out of the library for her two- and four-year-olds that mentioned dogs could only see two colors besides gray. “I thought the audience for the Flame Challenge would think it was interesting,” Golob recalls.

Hundreds of scientists entered this year’s competition, and more than 27,000 students around the world were ultimately responsible for picking the best entry. The challenge is held by the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University, SUNY, and it is sponsored by the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Alda center is now accepting submissions of questions for the 2015 challenge.

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