Master of Health Physics student Eric Galicia is one of two winners of this year’s Stony Brook University Flame Challenge. The challenge, sponsored by the American Chemical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and now in its fourth year, calls on scientists to submit written or video explanations of complex subjects in ways 11-year old school children can understand. This year, participants were asked to answer the question “What is Sleep?” for the over 20,000 children from around the world who voted for their favorite entries.
[from left] Eric Galicia with Alan Alda and Brandon Aldinger (written entry winner) receiving their 2015 Flame Challenge awards at the 2015 World Science Festival on May 31. Photo by Jimin Kim (May 31, 2015) [src].
Galicia’s submission won as the top-ranked video explanation. He entered the competition as part of an assignment in his Public Engagement for Scientists class, taught by James Maciukenas (TECH Ph.D. ‘13), adjunct faculty and senior web developer and graphic design coordinator for the College of Science. The class aims to teach students strategies for engaging a variety of audiences with scientific information. It fulfills part of the communication requirement for a variety of College of Science professional master’s degrees including the Master of Health Physics program, which provides in-depth knowledge of radiation protection and detection while emphasizing strong analytical and communication skills. Maciukenas saw the challenge as the perfect opportunity for his students to put what they were learning in the class into practice. He said, “The goal of the online course is to help students understand the impact audience has when engaging the public with science, and what better way to utilize an online classroom environment than to have student work critiqued and voted on by over 20,000 11-year-old students interested in science.”
The assignment allowed Galicia to combine his two passions, science and film-making. “I’ve always been a big advocate of being able to explain advanced topics in physics to anybody, especially children,” he said. “One of my chemistry teachers once said, ‘if you can’t explain it to a five-year-old, then you don’t know what you’re talking about.’ I believe this to be true.” His winning video features a character who stayed up late playing video games, and is therefore deprived of sleep.
As a winner of the challenge, Galicia and his counterpart in the written portion of the competition were honored at a World Science Festival event hosted by Alan Alda, the creator of the Stony Brook University Flame Challenge, in New York City in May. They each received a $1,000 award.
Galicia has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from University of Illinois at Chicago and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
Listen to the NPR Science Friday interview with Alan Alda and the winners of the 2015 Flame Challenge: