Could improvisational theater help scientists communicate more effectively? If Alan Alda has anything to say about it, yes. 

The renowned actor, writer, and director has been a loyal, devoted friend of science, long before he played Hawkeye Pierce on M*A*S*H. From 1993 to 2005, Alda hosted Scientific American Frontiers for PBS, which he called “the best thing I ever did in front of a camera.” In 2001, he played physicist Richard Feynman in the play QED and in 2010, he hosted The Human Spark, an award-winning documentary that delved into everything that makes us human. Alda has also helped promote New York City’s annual science festival and recently wroteRadiance, a play about the life of Madame Curie.

So where does improv come in? Last year, Alda landed a gig as Visiting Professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Journalism, where he works with the school’s Center for Communicating Science. The goal of the program is to “train the next generation of scientists and health professionals to communicate more effectively with the public.”

But not every scientist has those communication skills. In contemplating how to get scientists to explain their work with more clarity, Alda wondered if the same techniques actors use to hone their acting skills and connect with their audiences could be applied to scientists. And that’s how improvisational theater exercises made their way into the science curriculum at Stony Brook.

There is definitely a need for more scientists who can explain complicated things in ways that everyone can understand. For example, in the past few days, the media needed scientists to help the public understand the recent earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan:

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Can future scientists benefit from the same techniques actors use? Check out Alda's class and let us know what you think:

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