Alan Alda’s ‘What’s a flame?’ contest where the judges are 11 year olds

You may have heard of Alan Alda.  He’s been around forever it seems.  Who can forget his character Hawkeye on the long running TV series M.A.S.H.?  Turns out he also has an avid interest in science, stemming from his early years, which he put to good use in a contest.

I remembered this moment from when I was 11. I was fascinated with the flame at the end of a candle and thought about it for days — and I had so many questions. What is it? It’s not like anything else I’ve ever seen. You can put your finger through it, it doesn’t have any substance, but it’s very hot. What’s going on in a flame? So I asked my teacher and she said, “It’s oxidation.” And that’s all she said. I didn’t know what oxidation was, so how was that an answer? She was just giving “flame” another name.

As a result of this early memory he cooked up a contest where scientists were asked to explain what fire is.  The judges where 11 year old kids.

The winner was Ben Ames, from the University of Innsbruck, Austria.  You can see his winning entry below.  From a training & development perspective he puts the following principles to good use:

  • curiousity (our brains love to satiate our curiousity) – how come the guy’s in chains by fire?
  • creativity – 11 year olds as judges?  Enough said.
  • relating the unfamiliar to the familiar – he uses things that are familiar (candles, popsicles, water) as springboards to teach  complex concepts
  • visual effects – he puts cartoon characters, symbols & other visuals to good use
  • auditory effects – he uses a great narrator, with a voice that varies in intensity, modulation, rhythm & emotion
  • humour – love the boxing ring!
  • repeat.  I repeat.  He uses repetition effectively.  Chemiluminescence anyone?
  • rhythm – the song he uses makes good use of rhythm & guess what? Our brains LOVE rhythm

Check it out!

What is a Flame from Ben Ames on Vimeo.


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2 Responses to “Alan Alda’s ‘What’s a flame?’ contest where the judges are 11 year olds”

  1. Aaron Says:
    August 13th, 2012 at 11:56 pm

    wow, this is very fun… Alan Alda has been such a great creative force. Thanks!

  2. Lee-Anne Ragan Says:
    August 22nd, 2012 at 6:29 am

    Hey flame thrower-as someone who knows how to make things simple without being simplistic, I’m glad you liked the post. I had no idea Alan Alda was so into science. I thought his idea for a contest & having kids judge it was uber creative.

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