Join Us for Flame Challenge 2015

“What is Sleep?”

Even if your school participated last year, you still need to register for this year’s challenge. Sign up your students to be judges by clicking here. As the March 20, 2015 deadline for registering classes has passed, there is no guarantee that classes registering after that date may participate.

Contest details:

We all do it, and most of us have done it every single day for our entire lives. Babies do it, and so do the oldest people on earth. Puppies do it. Kittens do it. Even computers have a “sleep” mode.

What is sleep? That’s the question we’re asking in the 2015 Flame Challenge. Alan Alda and the Alda Center for Communicating Science are challenging scientists to explain sleep in a way that will enlighten 11-year-olds and awaken their interest in learning more about sleep.

Alan Alda’s Message to Student Judges:

Visit The Flame Challenge Blog for a behind-the-scenes look at our participating scientists and students. To submit a blog post, email us at We will update the blog as often as possible to inspire collaboration throughout the contest.

Alan Alda’s Message to Scientists:

Rules and Prizes:

This year, we’re adding a $1,000 cash prize for the two winning entries — one written entry and one video or graphic entry.

In addition, the winners will get a trip to New York City, where they will meet Alan Alda and be honored at a special event at the WorldScience Festival in June2015. The deadline to enter is Feb. 13, 2015. In the links at the right, scientists can find rules, FAQs, top tips from past winners, and other details. The basic info: submit a written entry of less than 300 words, a video of less than 5 minutes, or a graphic, in English. After being screened for accuracy, entries will be sent out to registered classes for judging.

Contest Background:

The 2015 question, “What is sleep?” was submitted by Ms. Wohlberg’s sixth grade class at Garden City Middle School in New York. Several other students from around the country asked related questions, such as “What are dreams?” Flame Challenge student judge No wonder kids wonder about sleep.

Sleep is something we all experience, but what is it really? Why do we need to do it, even when we don’t want to? What are dreams, and nightmares? Could we ever evolve — or take a pill — so we didn’t have to sleep? How does sleep affect how we learn or feel or remember? Does sleep change as you grow up? Is sleep the same for other living creatures as it is for people? What happens in your brain when you sleep?

The Flame Challenge began in 2012, based on actor and science advocate Alan Alda’s childhood question: “What is a flame?” The contest is generously sponsored by the American Chemical Society and the AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science).

“I came up with this contest as a fun challenge for scientists to explain a complex thing like a flame in a way that would make it clear to an 11 year old,” Alan Alda said. “The idea was to urge scientists to communicate more clearly. I didn’t realize what an extraordinary learning experience it was going to be for the 11-year-olds. By now, tens of thousands of kids from all over the world have excitedly delved into the mysteries of nature as they’ve judged the scientists’ entries. This year’s question — “What is sleep?” — should wake them up to a whole new understanding of that third of our lives we know so little about.”

The winners of the 2015 Flame Challenge will be revealed at a special event at the World Science Festival. Click here to see the timeline for the Flame Challenge.

So don’t be caught napping – join Flame Challenge 2015!

ACS logo aaas logo

Thank you to our sponsors.