Ballsbridge Hotel, Dublin 4.
At 11, Alan Alda was fascinated by the colorful, translucent undulations of a burning flame.
So he asked his teacher, “What is a flame?”
“It’s oxidation,” she said.
The answer dumbfounded him. A flame is indeed oxidation, a type of chemical reaction that occurs when something burns. But the word did not capture why a flame burns orange or why it produces heat, or anything else that the young Mr. Alda really wanted to know about it.
“It’s just giving it another name,” he said by telephone last week. “It’s like saying, ‘Well, a flame is Fred.’ And that really doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Recently, Alda, now 76, decided to spare other kids the confusion he once felt by setting up a website inviting anyone – scientists included – to offer an explanation of flame and have a panel of 11 year olds judge which one was the best.
It’s called Flamechallenge, and you (that’s right, you) have until April 2nd to submit your kid-friendly definition.