A group of FPE students, research staff and faculty members has teamed up during the last two weeks of March to prepare a video response to the question “What is a flame?” The question was asked by Alan Alda, actor, director, writer and science popularizer, in the form of an open science-outreach competition organized by Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science. This apparently simple question is seen as an example of the type of challenges faced by engineers and scientists who typically struggle to communicate to the general public the relevance, interest and excitement of their work. To make things even worse (as well as more interesting), the “Flame Challenge” question was to be answered in a way that an 11-year-old would find intelligible and maybe even fun.
Because of mid-term exams and Spring Break, the FPE team was composed mostly of graduate students. The team included Paul Marcus Anderson (PhD student), Luis Bravo (PhD student), Haiwen Ding (former FPE graduate, currently a staff member of the UM Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute), Haiqing Guo (PhD student), Vivien Lecoustre (Research Associate), Isaac Leventon (PhD student) and Rosalie Wills (BS student). The team was advised by Professors Stas Stoliarov, Peter Sunderland and Arnaud Trouvé.
Entries to the “Flame Challenge” were accepted in different formats, including writing, video or graphics; the FPE team decided to submit a video. In a matter of a few days, the FPE team wrote a script, performed several experiments, made video recordings, enlisted two 10-year-old children (Jamel Johnson and Anthony Romero) from a local school (Mount Rainier Elementary School) to recite the text, and produced a movie that was then submitted by the April 2 deadline.
Entries have been submitted from all over the world and number up to several hundred (perhaps more than 1,000). Entries will be judged in part by panels of 11-year-olds (the Center for Communicating Science is working towards a goal of more than 10,000 young judges). Go Terps!