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SBU, Alan Alda Pose New Question for Scientists: 'What is Time?'

Contest in its second year aims at improving communication between scientists, 11 year-olds, and the rest of the public.

After posing the simple, but not-so-simple question of "What is a flame?" to scientists last spring, Alan Alda and Stony Brook University's Center for Communicating Science have another question.

"What is time?"

The questions come as a contest – now in its second year – to scientists worldwide who are attempting to communicate their answers to 11-year-olds, in a wider effort to improve communication skills among scientists. So far this year, more than 5,000 real-life youths have signed on to judge the contest's responses.

"Last year's contest question came from a real 11-year-old: me,” said Alda through a statement released recently by SBU.

“But when I asked what a flame was at the age of 11, I was probably younger in some ways than most 11-year-olds are now. They're asking a very deep question this year. It's going to be fun to see how scientists around the world answer that one in everyday language." 

Hundreds of questions were considered for the contest's second year, from “Does the universe have a known end?” to “Why are Shetland ponies so small?”

Many questions submitted by kids themselves, though, centered around time: time machines, telling time, time's origin, etc.

SBU and Alda – a visiting professor in the School of Journalism – will be fielding written, video or graphic responses through March 1 of next year. Two winners will be chosen, one in the written category and another in the visual category, and both winners will be flown to New York City and recognized at the World Science Festival in June of 2013.

The contest is sponsored by the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

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