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Alan Alda Wonders: Can You Explain Sleep to a 6th Grader?


Every year, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science asks scientists everywhere to explain a basic concept to young students. For the fourth annual installment, the center is challenging scientists to help children understand sleep.

The center selected this year's topic on the suggestion of Garden City, N.Y., teacher Ellen Wohlberg and her 6th grade science class. (Perhaps choosing a topic that hits close to home for adolescents.)

"By now, tens of thousands of kids from all over the world have excitedly delved into the mysteries of nature as they've judged the scientists' entries," actor Alan Alda said in a release announcing the event Tuesday morning. "This year's question—'What is sleep?'—should wake them up to a whole new understanding of that third of our lives we know so little about."

The contest will be judged by 5th and 6th graders; teachers can apply online on behalf of their classes. This year's contest adds a $1,000 prize for both the best written entry and the best visual entry, along with a trip to the World Science Festival this May in New York City.

Last year's competition asked scientists to explain color. Melanie Golob, of the company Doctor Evidence, did so using an ocean metaphor and drawing in comparisons between humans and dogs. (Always a smart idea bringing in animals—you saw that picture up there, right?) In the visual category, Dianna Cowern, outreach coordinator for the University of California-San Diego physics department, made this vibrant explainer:

Bonus points to anyone who explains "Inception."

Top image: Self-portrait. (OK, an approximation.) Credit: Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr Creative Commons

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