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2015 Flame Challenge Explores Sleep

by Linda Wang
January 5, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 1

What is sleep? That’s the $1,000 question in the 2015 Flame Challenge, organized by actor, writer, and science advocate Alan Alda and the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.

As part of the contest, scientists answer an everyday question, and their responses are judged by 11-year-olds. “I came up with this contest as a fun challenge for scientists to explain a complex thing like a flame in a way that would make it clear to an 11-year-old,” says Alda, a visiting professor at Stony Brook University. “This year’s question, ‘What is sleep?’ should wake them up to a whole new understanding of that third of our lives we know so little about.” The contest is sponsored by ACS and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Scientists are invited to submit their answers to the question in writing, in a video, or using graphics. A $1,000 cash prize will be awarded to one written entry and one video or graphic entry. Winners will also receive a trip to New York City, where they will meet Alda and be honored at the World Science Festival in May. Submissions close on Feb. 13. For more information, or to enter the contest, visit

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