The Flame Challenge: What Is Sleep?

Winning Video Entry

Eric C Galicia
Master of Health Candidate (Physics)
Illinois, USA

About Eric

Eric C. Galicia is a candidate in the Master of Health Physics program at Illinois Institute of Technology. This program provides in-depth knowledge of quantum physics, radiation physics and biology, while emphasizing strong analytical and communication skills.

Galicia’s passion for science and film-making began in grade school when he fell in love with science fiction films and books. He has a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. He spends his free time studying for his master’s degree, running a Wing Tsun martial arts school, and continuing to pursue his film-making passions. And yes, it was real soap.

Watch the Winning Video

Winning Written Entry

Brandon Aldinger
Materials Scientist, Ibis Tek
Pennsylvania, USA

About Brandon

Brandon Aldinger decided to study chemistry after he realized that it linked his two favorite hobbies, astronomy and rock collecting. In the Nittany Chemical Society at Penn State University, he enjoyed preparing demonstrations for the annual Halloween Magic Show — the most memorable moment being when a pumpkin exploded a mite more forcefully than intended.

Brandon went on to earn his PhD at Cornell University, where he won an award for his teaching assistantship in an analytical chemistry course while performing research on the surface chemistry of silicon etching. Partnering with the Cornell Center for Materials Research Educational Office, he also led outreach events on fluorescent minerals and chemical demonstrations for inner-city students. Brandon currently works as the materials scientist at Ibis Tek, a veteran-owned small business, where he designs transparent armor, the multi-layered glass composites that protect soldiers in their vehicles.

Read the Winning Answer

Danger! If you don’t sleep, you’ll die! Like us, almost all animals need to sleep—everything from fish, to horses, to birds. Even butterflies and worms sleep!

Although there’s still some mystery as to exactly why we sleep, we know that our body takes care of two big things while we’re sleeping. First, our brain organizes what it learned while we were awake. Your brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons. These neurons are connected in a huge network. While we sleep, our brain strengthens and rearranges these connections to help us remember things more quickly and easily when we are awake. So, the next time your mom or dad yells, “Wake up! It’s time to go to school!” you can explain to them that you were actually still studying from yesterday!

The second thing that happens during sleep is our body heals itself. Sleep is a little bit like a superpower. If you want to get over a cold quickly, make sure you sleep a lot. You might also have noticed that adults in your home don’t sleep as much as you do. That’s because your body needs more sleep to manage the stuff that happens while your body and brain are still growing.

So those are two reasons why we sleep, but what about dreams? Well, as your brain is calming down from being awake, parts of it shoot out random signals, like a TV station with too much static. Another part of your brain does its best to make sense of these signals, but the story it puts together can be pretty weird! Does anyone else dream about fighting a gang of mutant ninjas, or is it just me?