Alan Alda Has A New Challenge For Scientists, What Is Time?

For the second year in a row supporting the Flame Challenge II, Alan Alda is asking scientists what is time. But there’s a catch: a sixth-grader should be able to understand that answer.

Last year, Alan Alda asked scientists what a flame was, pushing them to come up with an answer more creative and easier to understand that his teacher’s “oxidation” explanation when he was 11 years old. 800 scientists submitted their answers but only one won the Flame Challenge I. Ben Ames, 31, won the contest with an animated video that explains how fire is created by clashing atoms.

Ben Ames, the 31-year-old Kansas City native, will get a trophy to remember his win of the Flame Challenge I as well as a paid trip to the World Science Festival in New York the next year.

“We see misinformation about scientific facts on a daily basis” the star of M*A*S*H* said. “Sometimes you know so much about something you assume everybody else is as familiar as you are and you tend to speak in shorthand. Even other scientists may not understand what you are talking about if they are not an expert in your field” the actor added of the contest’s purpose.

“There’s hardly an issue we deal with today that isn’t affected by science” the host of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers” argued. “I’ve even heard from a number of people in Congress that they often don’t understand what scientists are talking about when they go to Washington to testify, and these are the people who make the decisions about funding and policy”.

The second challenge Alan Alda has for scientists is trying to answer what is time. It was one of the 300 questions the Stony Brook center received this year. The question asked by Sydney Allison, student at Gomm Elementary School in Reno will have scientists get creative about their answer. Submissions are to be sent before March 1, 2013.

“This contest probably gives people the impression that it’s a teaching tool for kids” but it is more than that says Alan Alda. “That’s a happy by-product, but it really is a tool for scientists to take a complex question and explain it in a way the rest of us can understand” the actor added.

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