The Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University has named a new director and welcomed its first international affiliate, the Australian National University, highlighting the Center’s rapid expansion nationally and now globally.
The Alda Center’s new director, Laura Lindenfeld, is Professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism and heads the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine. She joins the Alda Center March 1, succeeding the Center’s founding director, Elizabeth Bass. Dr. Lindenfeld has been involved with the Alda Center since 2013, when she attended its Summer Institute offering faculty training in the Alda Center’s communications techniques.
“The Alan Alda Center’s model has inspired me since I first learned of it,” Dr. Lindenfeld said. “The Alda Center’s work is transformative, and we need nothing short of transformation if we are to make science as relevant, responsive, and accessible as it can be. Serving as the Director of the Alda Center represents an inspirational opportunity for me both personally and professionally. “
With the addition of Australian National University, the Alda Center Affiliation Network now includes 16 universities, medical schools and professional associations. Participating institutions share Alda Center curriculum, materials and training, and collaborate on better ways to help scientists and health professionals communicate more effectively with the public.
Members span the United States, from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire to the University of Oregon, from the University of Chicago Medical School to Clemson University in South Carolina. The newest members, along with the Australian National University’s Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, include the University of Rochester and the University of Texas at Austin’s Moody College of Communication and Dell Medical School.
“The Center has grown faster than I ever expected,” said actor Alan Alda, who helped found the Alda Center and is a Visiting Professor in Stony Brook’s School of Journalism. “Our network of distinguished universities and medical schools now reaches across the world.”
The Alda Center, part of Stony Brook’s School of Journalism, was founded in 2009 to help scientists learn to communicate more clearly and vividly with the broader community and enhance public engagement with science. Better communication of science can improve public policy decisions, inspire young people, encourage collaboration, and lead to better science and medical care. The Alda Center uses innovative instructional approaches, including improvisational theater exercises, to develop courses and workshops taken by thousands of scientists – from graduate students to senior faculty – at Stony Brook and at dozens of universities around the country.
The Center also runs the Flame Challenge, an annual contest that challenges scientists to explain something complex in a way that will engage an 11-year-old. Schoolchildren worldwide propose the questions and judge the entries. This year’s question, “What is Sound?” has drawn answers from hundreds of scientists, and more than 25,000 schoolchildren from more than 400 schools around the world will take part in the judging. The winners will be announced at the World Science Festival in New York City in June.
“The single most exciting and encouraging aspect of the Center’s growth has been how receptive, even hungry, scientists have been for our training, whether they be senior scientists or young graduate and medical students,” said Howard Schneider, Dean of Stony Brook’s School of Journalism and co-chair of the Alda Center’s steering committee. “It bodes very well for the future.”
The Alda Center Affiliate Network includes American Chemical Society, Australian National University, Boston University School of Medicine, Clemson University, Dartmouth College, Indiana University School of Medicine/ Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine, Rutgers University, State University of New York at Cortland, University of Chicago Medical Center, University of Maine, University of Michigan Medical School, University of Oregon, University of Rochester, University of Texas – Austin (Moody College of Communication/Dell Medical School), University of Texas System for its Transformation in Medical Education (TIME) Initiative, and University of Vermont.