A night of science and storytelling

“Stories are so important, that’s how we connect with people,” said Alan Alda to a crowd of 500 at the London Convention Centre on November 10.

The award-winning actor, director and science advocate was the featured guest at Robarts Research Institute’s 2016 Leaders in Innovation Dinner.

With wit, humour and notable passion, he shared personal anecdotes from his own life and career, and spoke about the importance of storytelling in science.

“The public is on a blind date with science and that’s scary,” he said, pointing out that scientists assume people understand the terms and processes related to their work, but they often do not.

Alda is a founder of the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University in New York, working with the next generation of scientists to communicate more effectively with the public.

“I brought what I knew from the theatre into science communication,” he said. Alda demonstrated the relevance of improvisation to science communication and invited two guests on stage to assist him.

Following his presentation, Alda joined Heather Hiscox, anchor at CBC News Network, on stage for an armchair discussion.

Hiscox focused on questions submitted by audience members, covering topics ranging from the presidential election to his famous character, Hawkeye Pierce, on M*A*S*H.

Among the evening’s honorees were the 2016 J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine recipients Drs. Stephen Holgate and Malcolm Sears, pioneers in asthma research who have transformed approaches to the treatment and management of asthma.

The researchers graciously accepted the Prize from Marlys Koschinsky, PhD, scientific and executive director at Robarts, thanking their many collaborators and colleagues.

“I am so pleased to share this prize with Stephen, a friend and colleague,” said Dr. Sears during his remarks. “It’s a great honour.”  

Chronic lung disease research was on full display throughout the evening, in particular through a large art installation featuring colourful images of MRI-scanned lungs.

Attendees were also introduced to the researchers, clinicians and trainees at Robarts who are developing an innovative imaging technique to change the way chronic lung diseases are understood and treated.

Other special guests at the dinner included Andre Picard, a health columnist with The Globe and Mail, and Donna Hesch, an asthma patient featured in a special video about the lung disease research underway at Robarts.

“This (work) is a wonderful advance, now you can just treat the part of the lung that’s diseased and not the whole lung,” Alda said on a tour of Robarts earlier in the day. “Research and passing the research on to patients, all in the same institution – there’s a tremendous advantage to that.”   

Please enjoy a photo gallery highlighting special moments from the event. Can’t see the slideshow below? View online