There comes a time in every child’s upbringing where they start wondering where they went wrong. Alright, that may sound a bit pessimistic, but it makes sense. For me, I’ve always asked myself if I’m getting enough sleep and what side effects does my lack of sleep have on me. I’m 18, which according to the mystical—and irrational—rule, I should have slept for about 6 years of those 18. However, I’m sure that number is close to 5, or maybe even 4.5.
My health and impending narcolepsy aside, Alan Alda helps bring those answers to kids’ view with the World Science Festival. As part of the “Flame Challenge” that Alan Alda offers at the festival every year, this year’s question was “What is sleep?” In accordance with trying to get kids interested in science and getting to know that answer, Alda, along with several students in video answers, got to answer that very question.
The Flame Challenge works in that students enter a contest to answer that year’s Flame Challenge. Since its inception four years ago, over 2000 students and scientists have entered the contest, submitting written and video explanations in response to the challenge.
There were a number of presenters that Alda brought along for the festival’s challenge, including Robert Stickgold, a researcher at Harvard University who spoke about REM sleep and the different stages of sleeping. Next up with MIT researcher Matthew Wilson, who spoke about his studies on rats and how he found in rats, sleeping actually made memory retention last longer than no sleep at all. Paul Shaw, a researcher at the School of Medicine at Washington University also examined the correlation between memory and sleep in fruit flies, while Brown University researcher Mary Carskadon spoke about the detrimental impact social media has on our ability to sleep—in that we’re always constantly connected and therefore always on our phones.
Overall, the event was a fun end to the already fun festival. Alda and the World Science Festival truly did make science something that a child would want to be interested in, and there’s something special about seeing a child’s face light up after finding out how astronaut technology works, or even just how a flame works.