August #SciCommChall: Describe your research using only the most common 1000 words!

The idea for August’s #SciCommChall is borrowed from the xkcd webcomic, specifically from their comic “Up Goer Five” (see below) which displays a technical drawing of a space craft “explained using only the ten hundred words people use the most often”.

Click to enlarge. Credit XKCD comic “Up Goer Five”:

And that is exactly what we are going to do this month, too:

Annotate a picture that shows what your work is all about, a diagram of the mechanisms you are researching, a drawing of the instrument you are using, or write a short story.

But: you can only use words from a list of the 1000 most common words in the English language!

Does that sound challenging? Good! 🙂

There is even a website ( that helps you do that by providing a text editor in which you can type your text and it tells you which words you are using that aren’t part of the most common 1000 words. This is so much fun! I typed in “testing complexity” just for, you know, testing complexity, and both words are not permitted. So I am super curious how you will describe your work! 🙂

Sarah one-ups the #upgoerfive #scicommchall, describing her work using different lists of the most commonly used 1000 words

Surely Sarah is the most dedicated contributor to August’s #scicommchall so far:

Yesterday afternoon I got a text message asking whether “is” isn’t on the list of the 1000 most commonly used words because it’s a form of “to be”, and hence can be used despite not being on the list, or whether, since it isn’t on the list, it is really not allowed in the #upgoerfive challenge.

That was a little confusing to me, since I was pretty sure that I had used “is” without any issue for my own challenge before. So after a little back and forth, Sarah launched into an investigation and it turns out that the lists of the 1000 most common words that you find on the internet differ substantially! Some don’t include “is” at all, others within the top 25 words. But then some include “energy” and others don’t. And “energy”, as you will see below, is a very central word for Sarah’s work!

Check out two different versions of how the gamified exhibition on the energy transition works, one using the #upgoerfive text editor, the other one using a list that I had linked (but I’ve since removed the link to avoid confusion and guide people directly to the awesome editor).

Here is the one using the word list that does include “energy”:

Click to enlarge

Here is the version done using the #upgoerfive text editor, which does not include “energy” and hence is a lot more challenging:

Click to enlarge

Leticia accepts the August #SciCommChall and describes her work using only words from the list of the 1000 most common words!

Letícia writes:

Challenge accepted! Describing my  research using only the 1000 more common words in English! @scicommchall #scicommchall

@douglaskomatsu this one’s for you too…

Humans are changing the air we all breath. Really cold water in our world acts as an important “door” to this air. Part of the air changes the water, causing “trouble” to those living in water… Too many changes in world’s water also slowly changes the air. The world’s air and water have been through lots of changes in time, but it has never changed so fast in such short time. People check and study the water in many different places, also where it is very very very cold, in order to get the full picture of these changes. It is like putting together the pieces of a huge game! It is very important to have this world’s water and air “big picture”: once we understand it, we can avoid more changes in the air, point out the places where water is changing faster (and causing trouble to those living IN it, and FROM it), deciding faster what to do next.

Photo: @letcotrim on board H41 Polar RV Almte. Maximiano @marinhaoficial , starboard view, Weddell Sea, Antarctica.

Thanks for letting us share this! 🙂

“A lost chapter” — a beautiful #SciPoem for #SciCommChall by Dipika Mishra

Dipika Mishra submitted this beautiful science poem for July’s #SciCommChall and we are excited to share it here! Do you have a poem you would like to share with us? Or an #upgoerfive? Or anything related to our old challenges? Just get in touch! 🙂


I am but a lost chapter in an ancient book,
Yellowed by the passage of time;
Dwelling only in a few people’s memory,
Like a old dismantled Fort which only very few have seen.

The contents of the book are changed and so is its outlook,
Every new reader enjoys this new content
Little caring about the lost chapter
That remains buried in the coffin of time.

Hmm, the truth of nature is thus followed
Evolution they say is what enables this change
From an old lost chapter metamorphosis occurs
And then brand new content takes over.

What does the Kiel Science Outreach Campus do if described with only the 1000 most commonly used words?

The Kiel Science Outreach Campus (KiSOC) can be described using only the 1000 most common words! Would you understand what the project is about if you only read this text`

Click to enlarge (Thanks Theo Sanderson and xkcd!)

For comparison, here is the first paragraph of our homepage in the #up-goer five text editor to show all of the words that are not allowed…

Click to enlarge (Thanks Theo Sanderson and xkcd!)

How are you doing with this month’s #scicommchall? We are looking forward to seeing your results! 🙂

“Our world is nice and we should look after it better” — Jon is explaining his research using only the 1000 most commonly used words

Wow, the August #SciCommChall seems to have hit a nerve! In addition to several “challenge accepted!” messages (I am looking at you, Julia, Kim, and Sinikka!) We already got the first submission yesterday (the same day the challenge was published):

Jon Lauderdale shared his research with us, using only the 1000 most commonly used words! And it is brilliant. Check it out below!

Click to enlarge: Image links to the up-goer five text editor (Thanks Theo Sanderson and xkcd!)

“Thing to figure out a lot of water” — can you explain your research using only the most common 1000 words?

Mirjam here:

Since I hadn’t tried the August #SciCommChall before challenging the world, and had the chance to hang out do some work on a research ship today (and thus took this picture), I had to give the challenge a shot right away. And I can only recommend you try it, too, it is SO MUCH FUN!

I went from “ocean” (not permitted) to “sea” (not permitted) to “big lake” (“lake” not permitted) to “big puddle” (“puddle” not permitted) to “a lot of water”. And then from “cable” to “rope”, “string”, “yarn”, “long thing”. I suspect that it’s a case of practice makes perfect and that it will get better next time I try. And I will definitely try again, because, as I said, it is SO MUCH FUN! 🙂

How is this challenge working for you?

P.S.: If you want to know how we describe this thing if we can use more words than just those 1000, check out the brilliant movie that Sindre Skrede made 5 years ago already!

Click to enlarge