Often the simplest of things can become the richest sources of wonder. My 9 year old grandson was with us this past week for a visit from Michigan. As it being the holiday season, candles were plentiful. Grandma asked him to light the candle for dinner. That was the beginning of great exploration. While sitting around the table after dinner, we began to “play” with matches. That in itself is an adventure, but what Logan noticed is that if you attempt to relight a candle immediately after blowing it out, you can ignite a flame from a distance. So began our investigation. How far away from the wick could the match be and light the candle? How long does this phenomenon last? And turned into – how many times can we relight the candle with one match? Four books of matches later, the highest we could reach was nine times. The farthest we could be and still relight was four centimeters. Along the way he discovered that by holding the match head directly over the candle flame he could ignite it from a good distance away.
What is flame? And why did this work? What is it about flame that we find so fascinating? Logan was fully engaged. The first thing he did the morning after his return home was to get his dad to continue the investigation. Something my daughter was less thrilled about. It somehow bothered her that her son was so enjoying playing with matches. Oh, well. On his birthday list is five books of matches.
We have two fireplaces in our home and a fire pit in the back yard. Throughout my life, I have found I can spend hours at a time just sitting in front of the fire. It was this very phenomenon of fire that played such a pivotal role in early mankind’s survival. It offers warmth, beauty, and engenders community.
Walking to work this morning, I listened to MPR’s Science Friday. There was an episode on a program from the “Center for Communicating Science” posting an intriguing question and inviting scientists from around the world to provide an explanation that would be engaging and comprehensible to an 11 year old – in fact the judges were a panel of 11 year old children. The first question (2012) was “what is a flame?” Turns out there is a high level of complexity to the question and providing a clear answer was a real challenge. What a great idea! This year, the question is “What is time?” It is worth a visit to their site.