For the second straight year, Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science is hosting a competition called the Flame Challenge. The goal is for scientists to answer a question about nature in a way that is interesting and informative to an 11-year-old. In fact, 11-year-old schoolchildren are the judges (although professional scientists screen submissions for technical accuracy). The name of the challenge comes from last year’s inaugural question: What is a flame? This year, the question digs even deeper: What is time?
I have to admit, it sounds really hard. Unlike last year’s question, this year’s question has an added degree of difficulty because it probes the cutting edge of physicists’ understanding of the universe. The winner of last year’s Flame Challenge was a seven-and-a-half minute animation in which atoms are depicted by Legos and chemical reactions by boxing fights. The video is punctuated by a short, tuneful rock song that summarizes the physics and terminology that describe a flame. I thought the video was great once it got past its not-so-eloquent description of atoms (“Everything is made with tiny things called atoms, and these things are the building blocks that make up everything“). Dare I admit that I might have even learned a thing or two about pyrolysis and chemiluminscence? Still, I’m a sucker for infographics, so my vote would have gone to this finalist.
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