Scientists Explain Color To A Kid
December 13, 2013

What Is Color? Contest Asks Scientists To Explain It To A Kid

[ Watch the Video: Alan Alda Issues New Flame Challenge - What Is Color ]

Ranjini Raghunath for - Your Universe Online

In 2011, actor and science enthusiast Alan Alda invited scientists from around the world to explain, in simple terms, a question asked by his 11-year old self: “What is flame?”

The competition, inspired by Alda’s unquenched childhood curiosity, is now in its third year. Called the Flame Challenge, the international competition is organized by the Center for Communicating Science named after him at Stony Brook University, New York.

This year, scientists have until March 1, 2014 to explain, through writing, video or graphics: “What is color?”

The question was selected from more than 800 questions posed by 11-year-olds across the country, including “Is my blue their blue?” “Does everyone see color the same?” and “Why is the sky blue?”

"We want scientists to think about how they can answer the question from their own field — from biology to physics to anthropology or psychology," stated Elizabeth Bass, director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook.

Alda started the competition two years ago when he realized that there was a serious lack of understanding between the work done by scientists and the rest of the world, ultimately hampering scientific progress, he wrote in a Science editorial last year.

“I began to think that clarity in communicating science is at the very heart of science itself,” he wrote.

Which is why the Flame Challenge encourages scientists to communicate science in a way that an 11-year-old can understand and appreciate.

After initial screening, entries will be judged by 11-year-olds in schools around the world. Two winners – a written entry and video/graphic entry – will be selected and honored at the 2014 World Science Festival in June.

Last year’s contest, which posed the more complex question “What is time?”, saw nearly 20,000 students judging the entries. Winners included a retired engineer who ran a science outreach program at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, and a graduate student from Canada who created a web series called Science Isn’t Scary.

The contest is sponsored by the American Chemical Society and American Association for Advancement of Science – non-profit agencies involved in advocating science communication for the public.