The Flame Challenge: Using Today’s Technology to Answer Alan Alda’s 65-Year-Old Question

One night this week, I was watching M*A*S*H and decided I was going to see what Alan Alda, the star of the show, was up to after all these years.  I love the show – always have and always will.  In my opinion, only The West Wing did more to capture my heart and Alan Alda was on that show, too!  As I was looking through the Google search results, I came across something very interesting: The Flame Challenge.  Naturally, I was curious.

NPR’s Ira Flatow interviewed Alan Alda about The Flame Challenge in March, 2012.  Here’s the executive summary they posted:

At age 11, actor Alan Alda asked his teacher what a flame was. He received a confusing answer: “oxidation.” In the spirit of better communicating science, he’s created the “Flame Challenge,” a contest in which scientists do their best to define a flame. Eleven-year-olds from around the world will judge the entries.

The winner was announced in June and below is the winning submission from Ben Ames, a quantum physicist and doctoral student.  Congratulations, Ben!

What is a Flame from Ben Ames on Vimeo.

This post is not a re-hash of the other posts.  Rather, it is a celebration of educational progress and innovation.  What Mr. Ames did was take the technological resources at his disposal, his creative nature, and his desire to answer a question clearly in terms that children can understand and put them altogether to create an answer to a question that has haunted Alda since he was 11.

What I love most about this is that Ames focused his answer on the way in which he answered it.  He used an approach that resonates with 11-year-olds – video, song, animation, and HUMOR.

Please take 7:30 and watch the video embedded in this post with a kid you know.  I think they’ll love it!

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