Alan Alda’s Challenge: Can you Explain Sound to an 11-Year-Old?

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Scientists, it’s time to lend your ears (and your knowledge) to this year’s big science competition: Explaining the science of sound to 11-year-olds.

The winning answer will help not only children across the world understand sound, but also the contest’s founder, actor Alan Alda. Alda is known for his work on the TV series “M*A*S*H” and “The West Wing,” and now heads the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York.

Since 2012, the center has organized an annual competition, asking scientists — be they graduate students, professors or retired — to explain complicated concepts in an engaging and easy-to-understand way. Hundreds of researchers have stepped forward, answering questions about color, sleep, time and flame. [Easy Answers to the Top 5 Science Questions Kids Ask]

In fact, Alda started the competition based on an experience he had at age 11. He remembers asking his teacher to explain flame, and she responded with one word: oxidation.

“I never got a good explanation,” Alda told Live Science last year. “I didn’t know what oxidation was. Oxidation was just another word for me.”

Years later, he started the contest as a way to engage 11-year-olds in science, and to connect scientists with the next generation. Each year, children submit questions they want answered. Alda presents the winning question to scientists, and asks that they submit a 300-word explanation, a graphic response or a 5-minute video explaining the concept.

“There are so many ways in which sounds affect us, so many ways that different animals use sound, and so many kinds of sound,” Aldasaid in a statement. “I can’t wait to see how creatively scientists will explain exactly what sound is. The kids and I are all ears.”

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