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