Kids are used to having their work judged by adults. But every year, the tables are turned in a competition called the Flame Challenge. In this year’s competition, professional scientists had to explain sleep, and 11-year olds got to choose which explanations they liked the best. Scientists created videos or simply wrote a few paragraphs to answer the question “What is Sleep?”
Classrooms from around the world met at a videoconference where kids discussed the finalists. The voting has just ended. Students, scientists and many other Flame Challenge followers will have to wait until the World Science Festival on May 31 for the winners to be announced.
The Flame Challenge was the idea of actor Alan Alda, who remembers asking his teacher: “What is a flame?” and not getting a clear answer. While scientists know a lot of fascinating stuff, they are not always that great at telling what they know to people who are not experts. Scientists can take courses to help them communicate better at places like The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stoney Brook University, New York. This center started the Flame Challenge in 2012 with Alan Alda’s childhood question “What is a Flame?” This year’s question “What is Sleep” was suggested by kids.
Your parents are right when they don’t let you stay up late all the time. Why we need sleep was explained in creative and entertaining ways by this year’s Flame Challenge finalists, which you can see here. According to these scientists, sleep helps you study for tests and figure things out, like how to win at your favorite video game. Just like how you might makes mistakes when doing your homework, scientists say your brain creates waste when it is working that it needs to tidy up when you sleep.
The scientists give clear explanations for sleep that anyone can understand. Even better, they also explain what is NOT known about sleep, and some of the great mysteries yet to be solved by the next generation of scientists. Will you be one of them?