The National Academy of Sciences is presenting its 2016 Public Welfare Medal to actor, director, writer, and science communicator Alan Alda in recognition of 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.”
The medal is the Academy’s most prestigious award, established in 1914 and presented annually to honor extraordinary use of science for the public good.
Alda, who was the keynote speaker at SC15, will receive the award on May 1 during the Academy’s 153nd annual meeting.
“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. For 11 years, he played Hawkeye Pierce on the classic TV series “M*A*S*H,” winning seven Emmy awards for acting, writing, and directing. He also appeared in continuing roles on “ER,” “The West Wing,” “30 Rock,” and “The Blacklist.” Alda has starred in, written, or directed more than 30 films, including ”The Aviator” – for which he was nominated for an Academy Award. On Broadway, he received Tony nominations for “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “Jake’s Women,” and “The Apple Tree.”
His role as science communicator is equally distinguished. As host of PBS’s “Scientific American Frontiers” from 1993 to 2005, Alda 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. On Broadway, Alda appeared in “QED” as physicist Richard Feynman. He also wrote the play “Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie” and “Dear Albert,” a reading for the stage of Einstein’s letters. By the spring of 2016, “Dear Albert” will have been presented in New York City, Moscow, and Brisbane.
Alan Alda is a gifted communicator, but just as impressively, he has generously shared his talents by training thousands of scientists to share their research with the public in ways that build lasting connections,” said National Academy of Sciences President Ralph J. Cicerone. “We are pleased to present him our highest award.”
Alda’s passion to help scientists communicate with the public led to the establishment in 2009 of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, where he is also a visiting professor. 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