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Stony Brook University center renamed for Alan Alda

Alan Alda demonstrates improv techniques in the course "Communicating Science." Photo from Stony Brook University
April 26, 2013 | 02:16 PM
Stony Brook University's Center for Communicating Science — the first of its kind in the United States — was renamed in honor of Alan Alda, the renowned actor, director, and writer who has made an art form of communicating science to the public.

University President Dr. Samuel Stanley announced the center's new name, the "Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science," at the Stony Brook Foundation's annual fundraising gala, "The Stars of Stony Brook."

Alda is a founding board member of the center and a visiting professor in the Stony Brook University School of Journalism, which houses the center. Its goal is to enhance public understanding of science by helping scientists and health professionals learn to communicate more effectively with members of the public, including public officials, students and the media.

"Alan did not casually lend his celebrity to this effort," Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism, said. "Alan inspired its birth. He opened doors that would have been impossible to open otherwise. He's the center's evangelist and its muse. When the rest of us run out of gas, he's been an inexhaustible source of encouragement and creative ideas."

As an actor, Alda became famous playing surgeon Hawkeye Pierce in the acclaimed TV series "M*A*S*H" from 1972 to 1983.

As host of the PBS show "Scientific American Frontiers" from 1993 to 2005, he talked with hundreds of scientists around the world and saw that they communicate much better when they carry on real, personal conversations about their work, rather than lecturing or falling back on technical language. He brought that insight to Stony Brook, inspiring the university to create the Center for Communicating Science in 2009.

With the center, Alda has been pioneering the use of improvisational theater exercises to help scientists share their work and their passion for science more spontaneously and directly with the public.

Since the Alda Center began offering graduate level courses to Stony Brook University masters and PhD students in 2011, 230 graduate science students have earned close to 600 academic credits in communicating more effectively. Last fall, the Alda Center began offering its courses to Stony Brook's medical and nursing students.

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