He is a household name who brought the characters of Hawkeye in M*A*S*H and Arnold Vinick in West Wing to millions of viewers worldwide.
Now Alan Alda is turning his talents to communicating the value of science – and he will do so in partnership with the Australian National University.
Alda has been pioneering science communication education through the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science, based in Stony Brook University's School of Journalism in the United States since 2009.
On Monday, the centre announced a formal partnership with the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science.
The agreement is first international partnership for the Alda Center, which was set up to help promote a wider understanding of science and to help scientists better communicate their work. The centre is now working with 15 other universities across America.
Alda will arrive in Australia next month for the World Science Festival in Brisbane and give a series of public talks in Canberra – all of which have sold out.
His passion for science communication began in the early 1990s when he began hosting a cutting-edge science and medical television series Scientific American Frontiers.
"I didn't want to do the show in the usual way, where I was the presenter introducing and reading the off-camera narration. I really wanted to have a conversation with my subjects and to really understand what it was they were doing. I didn't go in with a list of questions, I asked them to tell me in way I could understand, and viewers could understand, and it had a profound effect."
Alda understood there was a stereotype that scientists were generally poor communicators, but after interviewing "maybe 700 of them I found them to be funny, engaging curious, present, you just need to give them a chance to connect with you."
He realised the value of breaking down scientific communication barriers and has set up the centre to provide instructional approaches, including improvisational theatre techniques, to encourage scientists to communicate more clearly and vividly.
Alda said the ANU partnership came out of the ANU sending some of its own scientists to a Stony Brook summer school and explaining the work being undertaken at the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science – which includes the hugely successful outreach programs run through the Shell-Questacon Science Circus.
"I found out you already had a sophisticated program up and running and that we each have things to offer the other."
Alda said he was quite a fan of Vice-Chancellor and Physics Nobel Laureate Brian Schmidt, who has championed science education and communication and whose personal approach has helped new audiences better understand astronomy and the nature of the universe.
Alda said it was important scientists explain their work and their expertise to wider audiences for several reasons.
"Firstly, they need the public to understand them and get behind their research so that ultimately they can make a case for funding. Second, they need policy-makers to have an adequate understanding of what it is they are being asked to pay for, and the third layer is, if scientists are going to collaborate effectively, they need to understand each other, and I am often surprised at how this is not happening as well as it should."
He said the vaccination debate, climate change and medical advances were all examples of areas were the general public could benefit from accurate yet accessible information from the science community – to better counter misinformation, politicisation and, sometimes, fear.
Alda's dream was "that every place that teaches science will teach the communication of science as a matter of course so that we produce capable scientists and capable communicators. The future of science depends on it."
Alda will present a public talk at Australia National University on March 9 – "Getting the public beyond a blind date with science" and deliver a National Press Club address on March 10.