Vote for the 2015 Flame Challenge Winners

Vote for the Flame Challenge 2015 winners by selecting entries that best answer the question, “What is Sleep?” and filling out the form available here. Remember, only classrooms who are registered (by their teacher) as judges can vote on the finalists.

Voting is open until 11:59 p.m. EDT Tuesday, May 5. Vote here!

Here are the three finalist entries for the video submission category:

Entry # 727
Location: Des Plaines, Il

Entry #714
Location: London, UK

Entry #705
Location: Queensland, Australia

Here are the three finalist entries for the written submission category:

Entry #265 from Houston, TX

All creatures, humans, mammals, birds, fishes, and flies, need a break to rest or to sleep. While humans sleep with both eyes closed, birds sleep with one eye open, to watch out for their predators. “Nocturnal” bats, unlike humans, sleep during the day. Babies and children need more sleep than older people because their brains and bodies are still growing. Short sleeps during the day are “siestas” or power naps.

All activities, such as showering, eating, playing, learning, use energy. When we are short on energy we feel tired. Sleeping “stocks up” or banks our energy and allows us to keep moving every day, and day after day. Sleep gives our brain and body the needed break from activity, to relax, to heal, to repair, and to recharge our batteries. A good night’s sleep helps us focus in class and to remember things. Sleep improves our general health and gives our bodies the power to guard off bad germs that can make us sick. If humans stay awake for too many hours, they get sleepy, irritated, or cranky. If rats don’t sleep, they die. If computers are kept running continuously, they crash.

Our sleep is divided into five cycles or periods. Dreams happen when we are in sleep cycle five or in “REM” (rapid eye movement) cycle. Dreams project our thoughts, experiences, and desires. Dogs dream too! Nightmares are just bad dreams of visual imaginations of our fears, which often, wake us up. Gaming and watching TV at night can keep us from getting enough sleep. Kiddo, don’t be a night owl, turn off your lights, roll into your pajamas, and get to bed early every night, so that you can get a good night’s sleep! When you do this every day, nothing can stop you from achieving your dreams!

Entry #143 from Renfrew, PA

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?

Entry #176 from Arlington, VA

Did you know a bottle-nose dolphin’s brain can be asleep and awake at the same time?  While one half of the brain sleeps, the other half stays awake! When humans go to sleep at night, our whole brain and body goes to sleep all at once.

Whether you are a dolphin or a human, we both need sleep to survive. Sleep is your daily, rest mini-vacation for both the brain and the body. Sleep gives you a break so that you can get ready for the next day.

When you are asleep, you go back and forth between REM and Non-REM sleep every 90 minutes. That is about 4 to 5 times a night.

REM stands for rapid eye movement. During REM sleep, even though your eyes move back and forth rapidly under your eyelids, the rest of body’s muscles are completely relaxed. Your heart beats faster and your breathing is not as regular. This is also the part of sleep during which you remember your dreams. During REM sleep, your brain’s energy is restored. Good REM sleep helps you get good grades.

During Non-REM sleep, breathing slows down and blood supply increases to the muscles.  During Non-REM sleep, hormones such as Growth hormone are released. These hormones are essential for growth and repair of muscle tissue. During Non-REM sleep, you body’s muscle energy is restored. Good Non-REM sleep helps you run really fast.

But, sleep is not just important for grades and running. When you don’t sleep well, you get sick, feel cranky and fall asleep during your favorite movie!

How much sleep do you need? Dolphins sleep about 8 hours a day. Most, ten to twelve year olds need nine to eleven hours a day. So, make sure you get more sleep than a dolphin!

Vote for you favorite Video and Written entries here!

About the Flame Challenge:

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.

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.

Rules and Prizes:

This year, we’re adding a $1,000 cash prize for the two winning entries — one written entry of less than 300 words and one video of less than 5 minutes or a graphic, in English. The entries are screened for accuracy and sent out to registered classes for judging.

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 on May 31, 2015.

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 on May 31, 2015. 

So don’t be caught napping – pick your winners for the Flame Challenge 2015!

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