“What is Sound?” That is the question that The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University is challenging scientists to answer in video or written form for the Flame Challenge 2016. 

The Flame Challenge is an international competition where scientists answer the question in a way that is most appropriate for 11-year-olds. Entries will be judged by thousands of 5th and 6th grade schoolchildren around the world.

Teachers: Register your class now to be judges:

Even if your class participated last year, you still need to register for this year’s challenge. Sign up your students to be judges in this year’s contest by clicking here.

Scientists: Submit your entries:

Scientists, if you’re interested in entering your visual or written entry for this year’s contest, please fill out the form here.

More about this year’s contest:

An international contest now in its fifth year, the Flame Challenge is judged by 11-year-olds around the world, challenging scientists at every level – from graduate students to senior researchers – to answer and communicate familiar yet complex concepts in a way that is understandable to an 11-year-old. The Flame Challenge offers a $1,000 cash prize for scientists in each category. The winning scientists will also receive a trip to New York City where they will meet Alan Alda and be honored at the 2016 World Science Festival.

“There are so many ways in which sounds affect us, so many ways that different animals use sound, and so many kinds of sound,” said Alan Alda. “I can’t wait to see how creatively scientists will explain exactly what sound is. The kids and I are all ears.”

Keziah Job, an 11-year-old sixth grader from Lynbrook South Middle School in Lynbrook, New York, was one of the students who came up with this year’s question.

“I hope that they tell me what sound is,” Keziah said, when asked what she hopes the contest’s scientists will tell her about her question. “I’m speaking and I want to know what makes up the sound.”

Aidan Green, a fifth grader from Maungatapu Primary School in Tauranga, New Zealand, also asked this year’s question. “I like to listen to the sounds around me and wonder how they all sound different?” said Aidan. “What makes them do that?”

How it works:
Each year we pick a new question students around the world want to see answered and hundreds of scientists send in entries in written or video form.

The Flame Challenge began in 2012 with Alan Alda’s childhood query: What is a flame?

“When I asked what a flame was at the age of 11,” Alan said, “I was probably younger in some ways than most 11-year-olds are now.” He said the kids asked a very deep question in 2013, “What is Time?” and that it was fun to see how scientists around the world answered “that one” in everyday language.

After screening for scientific accuracy, the entries are judged by thousands of 11-year-olds in schools around the world. The winning scientists are brought to New York to be honored in June at the World Science Festival. Entries can be written, video or graphic. For rules and other information, see the links in the sidebar at the right.

Alan Alda’s message to students:

Scenes from previous challenges:
To give you a sense of the fun and excitement of the Flame Challenge, here’s a video of last year’s Worldwide Assembly where we spoke with students from around the world about the scientists’ finalist entries. 

Thank you to our Flame Challenge sponsors, the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), two nonprofit organizations working to improve communication of science.