Time. We use it everyday to instruct our movements, plan our whereabouts, coordinate business and judge almost everything else…literally. But have you ever really thought about what time is? It has the distinction of being the fourth dimension in the universe and at the same time, somewhat abstract. It’s not like we can feel time, after all. And a second is only a second because we decided to give it a certain length and name.
The idea of time is very complex and it has been an ancient subject of great interest for philosophers and more recently, physicists. It’s a concept you would be hard pressed to explain to anyone let alone an 11 year old, but that’s just what Alan Alda is asking for in his most recent ‘Flame Challenge’. Initiated by Alda and the Center for Communicating Science, the Flame Challenge asks scientists to take complicated questions and provide answers intended for a junior audience.
Last year’s question, ‘What is a Flame?’ was the first challenge in what is becoming an annual competition. Entries are judged for accuracy by a panel of scientists and then for understandability by thousands of 11 year olds. It’s not exactly clear what, if any, prize is awarded to the winner, but I’m pretty sure the satisfaction of piquing a child’s interest and bringing out a smile will help inspire and drive your creativity.
And at this point, you better be in hyper drive. The deadline for submission is March 1 and considering last year’s winner was a seven and a half minute animation complete with an original and catchy song, throwing some words down about the properties of time as temperatures approach absolute zero is only going to get you a cold reception; let’s face it, 11 year olds can be a brutal crowd.
I love this idea. As I’ve stated, making science available for the public and especially children is one of the reasons I wanted to start this blog. Given the time constraints (get it…), I will not be submitting a piece for consideration to this year’s committee – unless it’s a piece on the crushing burden of time in adulthood and how time, itself, is the guarantee that each of these curious scamps will someday learn that brutal lesson. But enough fun, and I don’t want to give too much away, because I’m initiating my own deadline (whenever I get around to it) for answering this titillating question in agreement with contest guidelines. I will post it right here in the coming weeks and you can let your little scientist be the judge of how well I managed to explain time. I encourage any readers that want to challenge my entry with their own to submit those here as well, and I’ll give you all the time you need.
If, on the other hand, you think you want to try and throw together an entry for the official Flame Challenge in the next six days, here’s a little on what they are looking for:
…we don’t expect you to provide a definitive answer. And you don’t have to focus on physics. You can explore the nature of time from any scientific perspective, such as biology, chemistry, geology, psychology, anthropology, etc. If you can intrigue kids, teach them something, and make them want to know more about it, that’s plenty.
And as a metric for these kid’s standards, watch last year’s winner below: