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Time Running Out on Scientists to Answer Stony Brook University Challenge

Feb 19, 2013 - 4:00:00 PM

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Alan Alda
STONY BROOK, NY, February 19, 2013 – With less than two weeks remaining, Alan Alda and the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science (CCS) are challenging scientists to explore a fundamental question asked by 11-year-olds: What is time?
Scientists have until midnight (EST) March 1 to submit written, graphic or video entries that discuss the nature of time in ways that would interest and enlighten an 11-year-old. About 20,000 schoolchildren from around the world already are signed up to judge the entries. The winners will get a trip to New York City, where they will be honored at the World Science Festival on June 2.  Details, rules and the entry form can be found at
Actor and science advocate Alan Alda, a founding member of the Center for Communicating Science, noted that the question “What is time?” is a deep one.  “I hope that what the scientists do is not take this as a challenge to explain the inexplicable, but to explore the mysterious," Alda said. 
The Flame contest began last spring with Alda’s own childhood query: What is a flame? This year, the contest collected hundreds of questions from current 11-year-olds. Several asked “what is time?” or related questions, such as: How would you make a time machine? Why can't you go back in time? Why does everyone age? How can you tell what time it is without looking at a clock? How many dimensions are there? How did time begin?
“We don’t expect you to have the definitive answer,” said Elizabeth Bass, CCS director. “We would like entries to explore the nature of time from any scientific perspective – from physics to psychology, chemistry to computer science. Speculation is fine, as long as it’s clear you’re speculating. If you can intrigue kids, teach them something, and make them want to know more about the nature of time, that’s terrific.”

Last year, in the first year of the Flame Challenge, scientists around the world submitted hundreds of answers. The winning entry, a cartoon video with an original song, was created by Ben Ames, a physics doctoral student at the University of Innsbruck. For more information on entering or judging the contest, or to see last year’s top entries, please visit
The annual Flame Challenge contest is part of the Center for Communicating Science’s mission of helping scientists communicate more effectively with the public. Located in Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, the Center gives innovative Communicating Science courses for graduate students in the sciences, and conducts workshops around the country. Alan Alda is a founding member of the Center for Communicating Science and a Visiting Professor in the School of Journalism.
The Flame Challenge is being generously sponsored this year by two nonprofit scientific societies: the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The American Chemical Society is chartered by the U.S. Congress and has more than 164,000 members, making it the world’s largest single-discipline scientific society. It encourages its members to speak simply about their science and its importance to all of our lives. The American Association for the Advancement of Science is the world's largest multidisciplinary scientific society, with some 261 affiliated groups serving 10 million individuals. Its mission is to "advance science and serve society."


© Stony Brook University 2013

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