The Flame Challenge
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by Laramie Boyd
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Alan Alda has a deep interest in science, and as a result now has a post as Visiting Professor
in the Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University on Long Island, New York. Stony Brook is rated in the top 1% of
Universities in the world. Alda, you'll remember, played Hawkeye Pierce on the TV program M.A.S.H., which was a top rated show for
many years, and still can be seen in reruns on a regular basis. One reason Mr. Alda took the Stony Brook assignment was to try to
interest more young people in the Sciences.
Towards that end, last year Alda challenged
the scientists of the world to try to explain, in words that 11- year olds could understand, a question he had asked his teacher at
that age, "What is a Flame?" Responses were given by some 800 scientists worldwide, and the judging was done by six-thousand 11 year-olds
who had applied for that assignment. The winning explanation was done via a cartoon video by Ben Ames, a University of Utah graduate
who works exploring the world of quantum physics. Mr. Alda has another question this year.
In the 4th century A.D., St. Augustine asked, " What is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain to him who
asks, I do not know." This year, in what he calls The Flame Challenge, Mr. Alda decided that would be a good question to ask of modern
day scientists: "What is time?" Again the kids will do the judging and, Alda hopes, play the game, learn more about science, and have
some fun doing so. Interestingly, it seems that Meg Flensch, a pioneer in childhood studies, believes that "Children don't play for
fun. They play for real. To children, play is serious." It is obvious that some 6000 kids, and surely many more, are taking the Flame
Challenge very seriously. Alan Alda must be very proud.