The Flame Challenge

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What is The Flame Challenge?

The Flame Challenge is an international competition in which scientists answer a technical question in a clear and entertaining way, specifically geared toward an audience of 11-year-olds. Launched in 2012, The Flame Challenge began with Alan Alda’s own childhood query, "What is a flame?" 

When Alda was invited to contribute a guest editorial to the journal, Science, he wrote about why we need scientists to communicate clearly and vividly with the public.

I’d like to try a playful experiment. Would you be willing to have a go at writing your own explanation of what a flame is — one that an 11-year-old would find intelligible, maybe even fun?

How does it work?

Each year, a team from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University reviews questions submitted from students around the world. The Alda Center selects a new question for the contest each year, based on student submissions, then hundreds of scientists submit answers to the featured question in written or video format. After screening for scientific accuracy, the contest entries are judged by thousands of 5th and 6th grade schoolchildren around the world. The scientists who submitted the winning entries (one written, one visual) are invited to New York City in June to be honored as part of a special program at the World Science Festival.

Get Involved

Scientists, teachers, students and families are invited to join us each year as partners in The Flame Challenge. Please see the navigation at right to learn more about how to get involved.