Alan Alda Awards Science Prizes In The Name Of Color

By: Amanda Crum - June 3, 2014

Alan Alda may be best known for his role on the ’70s show MASH, but he has interests that extend far beyond the boundaries of the acting world. One of those interests is science, and he wants to get young people as involved as he can. In order to do that, he’s created the Flame Challenge, which attracted entries from all over the world from people who dared to try an answer the question, “What is color?”

The challenge stemmed from a childhood experience in which Alda asked his science teacher what a flame was. The response he got was “It’s oxidation.” That, he says, was not enough to satisfy his curiosity.

“I didn’t know any more about than I did before. It’s just like calling it by another name. It’s [as if] I said, ‘What’s a flame?’ and she said, ‘Oh, that’s Fred,'” Alda said.

The Flame Challenge asked people to try and explain what color is–and how we see it–to children, and over 27,000 kids from around the world chose the winners. In the video category, Dianna Cowern took the prize for her demonstration, which integrated animation and live-action. Alda said he was impressed with the way Cowern explained color without talking down to the children.

“It was humorous and joyous, but it didn’t disrespect the kids, and I love that,” Alda said.

Cowern, a graduate of MIT, is the outreach coordinator for the Physics Department at the University of California, San Diego. She also has her own YouTube channel called “Physics Woman”, where she talks about the science of physics in fun ways.

“Without avenues like the Flame Challenge to validate creative and accurate science communication, many, like me, may feel our science communication efforts are in vein; and we may lose the benefit of thousands of fantastic minds for whom science and expression are not separate. I have seen that “Ahaa!” moment when exploring science with a child and it amazes me! I hope one day that “Ahaa” moment will turn into a question, and the question will turn into a career. I hope this especially for young girls who are growing up in a world where their role-models are, on the whole, not scientists,” Cowern said.

Image via YouTube

Amanda Crum

About the Author

Amanda CrumAmanda Crum is a writer and artist from Kentucky. She's a fan of Edward Gorey, Hunter S. Thompson, and horror movies. You can follow her on Google:+Amanda Crum

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  • Shveek

    I wonder how long it’ll be before he starts handing out awards on other brilliant questions, such as, “Is water wet?”

    Oy…. **THIS** is what is considered deep, intellectual thinking nowadays???? (Although it doesn’t surprise me, now that I think of it; I’ve always known bleeding-heart Liberals are obsessed with colour & this pretty much proves it. Colour was the only reason they voted for Soetero–it sure as hell wasn’t because he was qualified, because he wasn’t & he isn’t.)

  • who cares?

    Alan Alda was an extraordinarily lousy actor. He is an even worse science guy. Give it up, Al. Just go home and don’t bother us anymore.

  • David Schneider

    Alda is a thoughtful, stimulating and provocative modern renaissance man. One of his questions is what is color. It’s energy made visible and the Tibetan Buddhists could say more, but for considering the joy of science, human nature and mankind see Art and Physics by Leonard Shlain.