Technology

Alan Alda opens Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at Australian National University

Alan Alda is best-loved for playing Captain 'Hawkeye' Pierce in the TV series M*A*S*H, so it was perhaps fitting that a bird interrupted his speech on Canberra on Tuesday.

Alda was launching a new centre focused on increasing public understanding about science at the Australia National University when a squawking cockatoo felt the need to interrupt when he was trying to explain why its important scientists drop the jargon and speak in plain English

Professor Alan Alda (centre) with ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and US Ambassador John Berry.
Professor Alan Alda (centre) with ANU Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt and US Ambassador John Berry. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

And the actor and advocate for science communication decided that squawking back to the group of birds trying to drown him out was the best way to respond.

"Where is that thing?" Alda said.

Professor Alan Alda, competes with a cockatoo during his speech at the official opening of the Alan Alda Centre at The ...
Professor Alan Alda, competes with a cockatoo during his speech at the official opening of the Alan Alda Centre at The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) at the ANU. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

"Does he have his own microphone?"

The Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science is a partnership between the ANU and the Alan Alda Centre for Communicating Science based at Stony Brook University's journalism school in the United States.

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Improving scientific literacy of the public and policy makers is one of Alda's greatest passions.

He hosted the documentary series Scientific American Frontiers for 12 years on US television.

Alda said last month there was a stereotype scientists were generally poor communicators, but after interviewing about 700 he had found them to be "funny, engaging curious, present".

"You just need to give them a chance to connect with you," he told Fairfax Media.

Alda said he realised the value of breaking down scientific communication barriers and had set up his centre in the US to provide instructional approaches, including improvisational theatre techniques, to encourage scientists to communicate more clearly and vividly.

- With AAP