Winner Of Flame Challenge Has A Fun Way To Explain Fire
July 4, 2012

Winner Of Flame Challenge Has A Fun Way To Explain Fire

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Have you ever tried to explain something as common and every day as a blue sky, green grass, or the way sound works? Those with children have likely had to do this very thing at some point, trying their best to assuage their kid´s blossoming curiosity. One parent in particular not only set out to answer a similar question, but also created a really cool video to do it.

Entering the “Flame Challenge” at Stony Brook University School of Journalism´s Center for Communicating Science, Ben Ames submitted his animated short film which features a naked, old man in a jail, some Lego wrestling, and some original music. It all works together to explain the simple question, “What is Flame?”

The contest is the brainchild of Alan Alda – yes, that Alan Alda – who sits on the board for the Stony Brook Center for Communicating Sciences. As the story goes, a curious, 11-year old Alda once asked his science teacher “What is a flame?” After thinking about it for a few seconds, the teacher responded with a non-satisfactory “oxidation.”

Though Alda turned towards a career in acting, he never lost his fascination with the sciences. “I knew there had to be more to the mystery of a flame than just giving the mystery another name,” Alda wrote in a guest editorial in the March issue of the journal Science.

Enlisting some 6,000 11-year olds as judges, Alda and team presented the videos and other explanations to the young panel. Ben Ames´ video was the hands-down winner, and for good reason. Though the video was meant to explain flame to an 11-year old, any adult will be able to take something away from his funky and highly entertaining explanation.

Ames, a 31-year old American working on his PhD in quantum optics at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, is studying the ways atoms interact with light on the smallest, quantum level.

The youngest of 8 children, Ames grew up in Kansas City, Missouri and was surrounded by music. In his youth, he learned how to play the guitar and the piano, and even flexed his right-brain muscle as he performed in high school plays and studied ballet.

In addition to his artistic pursuits, Ames also wanted to be an inventor when he “grew up,” much like Thomas Edison. Though he loved to watch the inimitable Bill Nye in his younger days, Ames became intimidated by science in grade school. Luckily, his passion for the sciences sparked once more when he entered college, and began his work towards a bachelors in applied physics from the University of Utah before studying in Finland and finally ending up in Austria.

Now, Ames is married to an artist and former art teacher, and the couple have a 2-year old daughter.

Explaining his wanting to enter the Flame Challenge, Ames writes, “I also have a passion for music, film, and the performing arts. So when I learned about this wonderful contest, I had finally found a project where I could put all of my interests to use. I locked myself in my basement for a solid week, writing, narrating, animating, and composing every element of the film.”

His hard work and the brilliant combination of his left brain understanding with his right brain vision are clearly visible in his video, which features original animation as well as original music.

“I was running on all cylinders doing this,” Ames told PBS News Hour correspondent Miles O´Brien. “I have never been through something so exhilarating in my life.”

Now, as the winner of the Flame Challenge, Ames has had his work publicized at the World Science Festival in New York last month.