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Alan Alda's 'Flame Challenge' for 2015: What is Sleep?

Find out how to enter this year's challenge in which entrants must explain to an 11-year-old what sleep is.

by Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
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Flame Challenge 2015What is sleep? That’s the question the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science is asking in the 2015 Flame ChallengeAlan Alda Center for Communicating ScienceWhat is Sleep?

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.

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What is sleep? That’s the question being asked 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. And we invite the teachers of 11-year-olds to sign up their classes to judge the scientists’ work.

This year, the center is 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 World Science Festival in May, 2015. The deadline to enter is Feb. 13, 2015. In the links at the right, scientists can find rulesFAQs, 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.

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?”

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 2011, 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.”

Register your class to Vote!

Teachers, register your students to vote on next year’s Flame Challenge here. Student judging on this year’s question will be from mid-February through mid-April. Click here to see the timeline for the Flame Challenge.

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