Renowned actor, writer and science communication advocate Alan Alda was honored with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory‘s prestigious Double Helix Medal at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City on December 1. Alda — whose passion for science communication spurred him to create the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in 2009 — was recognized for his efforts to help scientists improve the way they communicate about their work, in turn making science more accessible to the public.
Each year, the Alda Center provides in-person training to thousands of scientists and medical professionals around the world. Using techniques developed by Alda himself, the Center’s trained instructors guide participants through theater improvisation exercises to help them connect with their audience and talk about their work in a clear and engaging manner.
“Those talents that he’s gained from acting and directing…translate into an ability to help scientists create narratives and make them much more effective communicators,” said Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. “I think he created this field, and it’s really taken off at Stony Brook University.”
“Maybe in another life [Alda] would’ve been a scientist, but he likes it and thinks it’s important that [scientists’] message get across to people,” said Simons Foundation Chair Jim Simons.
In reflecting on his sincere interest in science, Alda commented, “I can’t sit next to a scientist at a meal and not pump him or her full of questions. What do you do? How does it work? Tell me more about that.”
Simons Foundation President Marilyn Simons echoed this sentiment, “He has really made scientists feel that they can communicate with the public.”
“Those scientists that we’ve trained…they’re going to be more effective at what they do, they’re going to be able to garner more support, and they’re going to be able to do more important work to help this country deal with some of the most important challenges we face,” added President Stanley.
“The Alda Center aims to break the stigma that some scientists perceive with communicating about their work,” said Alda Center Director Laura Lindenfeld. “Our team is so honored to collaborate with Alan to see this vision to reality, and we are so proud of this most recent and well-deserved award recognizing his important work.”