On December 1, 2016, renowned actor, writer and science communication advocate Alan Alda was honored with the Double Helix Medal presented by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Alda was recognized for his efforts to help scientists and medical professionals improve the way they communicate about their work, in turn making science and medicine more accessible to the public.
Alda’s passion for science communication spurred him to create the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in 2009. Each year, the 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,” comments Samuel L. Stanley, Jr., MD, Stony Brook University President and a Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Trustee. “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,” says Jim Simons, PhD, Chair of the Simons Foundation and an Honorary Trustee for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
In reflecting on his sincere interest in science, Alda comments, “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.”
Marilyn Simons, PhD, President of the Simons Foundation and a Trustee at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory echoes this sentiment, saying, “He has really made scientists feel that they can communicate with the public.”
“Those scientists that we’ve trained…” says President Stanley, “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.”
“The Alda Center aims to break the stigma that some scientists perceive with communicating about their work,” says the Center’s Director Laura Lindenfeld, PhD. “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.”
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About the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science
Established in 2009 at Stony Brook University in New York, the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science works to enhance understanding of science by helping train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public, public officials, the media, and others outside their own discipline. The Center offers a range of instructional programs for science graduate students and scientists, as well as credit-bearing courses through Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism. www.aldacenter.org
About Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Founded in 1890, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) is a preeminent international research institution, achieving breakthroughs in molecular biology and genetics and enhancing scientific knowledge worldwide. www.cshl.edu
About the Double Helix Medal
Beginning in 2006, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Double Helix Medal has recognized exceptional individuals who have dedicated their lives to raising awareness of the importance of scientific research for improving the health of people everywhere. Past celebrity honorees who have contributed to improved communication in science include: Katie Couric, Michael J. Fox, Robin Roberts, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others. www.cshl.edu/DHMD