Alan Alda Flame Challenge Winners Answer “What Is Color?

The kids held all the power over some of the world’s brightest minds this past weekend as they picked the winners of Stony Brook University’s Flame Challenge, conceived by Alan Alda, of Water Mill.

Scientists around the world attempted to answer the question, “What is color?” in a way that would interest and enlighten children between the ages of 9 and 12. Both Melanie Golob and Dianna Cowern’s submissions won the contest, and were awarded trophies at the World Science Festival in New York City. These winners were picked out of entries from nearly 400 scientists, who were first screened for accuracy and then sent to the judges at their respective schools.

Golob, a biochemist from Olympia, Washington, won the written portion of the challenge. She wrote in her entry, “One big step in improving science communication is to teach scientists doing the research how to explain their work in a way that is easy to understand.” Golob came up with the idea for her entry when reading to her two young sons about dogs not being able to see the same colors as people, and wanted to explain this scientific concept in a fun and interesting way.

Dianna Cowern, the outreach coordinator for the physics department at the University of California, won the video entry section. Cowern said, “Without avenues like the Flame Challenge to validate creative and accurate science communication, many, like me, may feel our science communication efforts are in vain; and we may lose the benefit of thousands of fantastic minds for whom science and expression are not separate.” She also runs her YouTube account, called Physics Woman, where she explains awesome physics concepts for everyone to access and understand.

When asked about the winners, Alda said, “Both [olob and Cowern] respect the intelligence of the 11-year-old judges, while giving them something to laugh at—and the students responded enthusiastically…Not only is this the first year that a woman has won the Flame Challenge, but both winners are women. I hope that girls as well as boys around the world will be inspired by these two young, thoughtful and passionate scientists.”

The Flame Challenge will run again next year with a new question contributed by kids for scientists to answer creatively. Children between the ages of 9 and 12 can submit their questions for consideration at flamechallenge.org.

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