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Actor Alan Alda is challenging scientists once again to answer a basic science question in language that will engage and enlighten 11-year-olds. He and the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science have launched the second edition of the Flame Challenge.

The question for this year’s contest, selected from 300 submissions by children, is: “What is color?”  Scientists had until 1 March 2014 to submit their answers in writing, video, or graphics.  For more information on the contest, sponsored by AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) and the American Chemical Society, visit the Flame Challenge.

By the March 1 deadline, hundreds of scientists submitted answers for this year’s Flame Challenge question: What is time? Thanks to all who grappled with this tough question. We got entries from around the globe, including England, China, Thailand, Australia, Japan, and Italy. Now it’s up to our 11-year-old judges. Nearly 20,000 students will judge the entries, including kids from Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, South America and 38 states in the U.S. So stay tuned – the winners will be revealed at a special event at the World Science Festival on June 2.

Did you know you have a super-power? We know that light is energy, and the way we see light is by its color. Every color has its own rate of vibration, called frequency, which exactly corresponds to its level of energy. The higher this rate, or frequency, the higher its energy. We love color for its beauty, as in flowers and sunsets. Color protects us, because it allows us to see when fruits and vegetables are ripe or rotten. We are so used to admiring color for its beauty that we forget our eyes and mind can see energy directly, and distinguish even tiny differences in energy.  The lowest light energy, or frequency, we can see is red. A little lower on the scale of energy is infrared, which we can't see, but feel as warmth on our face. As the energy gets higher and higher, it first looks orange, then yellow, green, blue, indigo, and finally violet, which is the highest energy, or rate of vibration, we can see. A little higher on the scale of energy, just above violet, we call ultraviolet, and this powerful energy can give you sunburn!

The sunlight that shines on everything looks white, but consists of all colors. When it shines through tiny water droplets at the right angle, the droplets act like a prism, and bend the light into a rainbow.  When sunlight falls on a flower, leaf, animal, or rock, much of the energy is absorbed. The energy that is not absorbed, but reflected into our eyes, is the color it appears to us.

Don't underestimate the ability of your own senses to reveal important scientific information. This is truly a super sense, and each of us has this wonderful super-power so we can see energy directly. Color is energy!