The National Academy of Sciences is presenting its 2016 Public Welfare Medal to actor Alan Alda, a visiting professor at Stony Brook University, who played a major role in creating the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. The medal recognizes his “extraordinary application of the skills honed as an actor to communicating science on television and stage, and by teaching scientists innovative techniques that allow them to tell their stories to the public.” This is the Academy’s most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.
“Through so many different venues, Alan Alda has been a tireless advocate for science, inviting millions of people to engage in the thrills of scientific discovery,” said Susan Wessler, home secretary of the National Academy of Sciences and chair of the selection committee for the award. “His ability to help researchers find their own voices about their work is unparalleled.”
Alda’s acting career on television, film, and stage spans more than five decades, but his role as science communicator is equally distinguished. As host of PBS’s Scientific American Frontiers from 1993 to 2005, he interviewed hundreds of researchers about new discoveries in science, technology and medicine. Alda also hosted two miniseries for PBS: “The Human Spark,” which explored what makes humans unique, and “Brains on Trial,” which examined how neuroscientific data from brain mapping technology could be used as evidence to inform the court system.
Alda’s passion to help scientists communicate with the public led to the establishment in 2009 of the Alda Center at Stony Brook’s School of Journalism. Alda and the Center have trained thousands of scientists through workshops at universities and other science-oriented institutions around the country. In 2011 Alda wrote a guest editorial for Science magazine that led to The Flame Challenge, an annual international competition through which scientists answer a question in a way that is most appropriate for 11-year-olds. Entries are judged by thousands of fifth- and sixth-grade schoolchildren around the world.
Alda is a member of the board for the World Science Festival and has won numerous awards, including the 2010 Kavli Science Journalism Award, the National Science Board’s Public Service Award, the Scientific American Lifetime Achievement Award and the American Chemical Society Award for Public Service. In 2014 he was named a fellow of the American Physical Society for his work in helping scientists improve their communication skills
The Public Welfare Medal will be presented to Alan Alda on May 1 during the Academy’s 153nd annual meeting.
Alan Alda hosts PBS series “The Human Spark” with Stony Brook’s John Shea.