Describe a flame, win a VIP pass to the World Science Festival

What is a flame?

If you can explain that, on a level that an 11-year-old can understand, then you could win a VIP pass to the World Science Festival, May 30 to June 3 in New York City.

This is one of those questions that is harder to answer than it first appears. Alan Alda, the man behind this contest, asked his teacher that question when he was 11. Her answer, "It’s oxidation," meant nothing to him. So this contest isn't just about accuracy, it's about communication.

I often hear people complain about journalists and science popularizers "dumbing down" the science. And I suppose that's something reasonable to complain about, if what you mean is that those people are getting the science grossly wrong.

But that's not usually what "dumbing down" means. In fact, most of the time, when somebody is complaining about a dumbing down of anything, I've found that what they mean is that the topic has been made accessible and entertaining to a broad audience. Dumbing down means taking the information beyond the experts and enthusiasts, and convincing people that this is a topic they should be interested in. That's not a bad thing. It just means that there are different ways to reach different people with the same information.

To me, that's what this contest is about. Explain a flame—without using jargon—and make the science behind it capture a kid's imagination. That's not easy. It will take some dumbing down. But I think some of you can do this. And I'm excited to see the results.

Entries can be turned in as text, video, audio, or graphics. But they're due by April 2, so get to work!

Enter Alan Alda's Flame Challenge

Via Lauren Wolf

Image: Flames, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from juniorvelo's photostream