STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Among the procedures Army surgeon Hawkeye Pierce performed on "M.A.S.H." was an end-to-end anastomosis.

Most of the viewers, actor Alan Alda concedes, had no idea he was talking about removing a damaged piece of intestine and reconnecting the healthy pieces.

Today, the award-winning film and television star is on a mission to teach physicians, physicists and scientists of all types to ditch the jargon and get their points across in clear, simple language.

The former host of the long-running PBS series "Scientific American Frontiers" is a founder and visiting professor of journalism at the Stony Brook University Center for Communicating Science, which has just been named in his honor.

"There's no reason for the jargon when you're trying to communicate the essence of the science to the public because you're talking what amounts to gibberish to them," Alda said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

A better understanding of science, Alda said, can benefit society in ways great and small. Physicians can more clearly explain treatments to patients. Consumers can decipher what chemicals may be in their food. And lawmakers can make better decisions on funding scientific research.

"They're not going to ask the right questions if science doesn't explain to them what's going on in the most honest and objective way," said Alda, 77. "You can't blame them for not knowing the jargon – it's not their job. Why would anybody put up money for something they don't understand?"

Alda, who lives in New York City and has a home on eastern Long Island, said that as his 12-year tenure as host of "Scientific American Frontiers" was ending in 2005, he began seeking out a university interested in his idea for a center for communicating science. He described himself as a "Johnny Appleseed" going from university to university shopping his idea.

Stony Brook, a 24,000-student state university about 70 miles east of Manhattan, "was the only place that understood what I was trying to say and thought it was possible," he said.

The center launched in 2009. At a gala last week, the Long Island school officially renamed it the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science.

"Alan did not casually lend his celebrity to this effort," said Stony Brook President Dr. Samuel Stanley. "He has been a tireless and full partner in the center since its inception. During the past four years, he has traveled thousands of miles championing its activities. ... He has helped train our faculty and develop our curriculum, and he personally teaches some workshops."

Alda has also helped publicize a contest the center sponsored the past two years asking students and scientists around the country to find simple ways to explain such concepts as "What is a flame?" or "What is time?"

Among the courses taught by the center is an improvisational acting class that teaches scientists ways of communicating their thoughts clearly to others.

"We've learned it's important to set up vivid analogies," said Lyl Tomlinson, a 24-year-old neuroscience graduate student from Brooklyn who's working as a teaching assistant, noting he used the effects of caffeine in a morning cup of coffee to begin a discussion on the nervous system.

Rep. Steven Israel, a supporter of the Stony Brook program, said educating people on the importance of science is key to America's competitiveness in the 21st century economy.

He recalled watching a congressional hearing on climate change in which, he said, "a bunch of scientists were trying to teach congressmen about the science of climate change and the congressmen were trying to teach the scientists about politics. It was as if both sides were speaking alien languages."

Alda shared what he called his best examples of clear communication with Tomlinson and his fellow teaching assistants.

About a decade ago, Alda said, he was in Chile filming a segment for "Scientific American Frontiers" when he was stricken with sharp stomach pains. He was evacuated from an 8,000-foot observatory and taken in an old rickety ambulance to a small, dimly lit clinic, where a doctor examined him and said he would require life-saving surgery.

"Some of your intestine has gone bad, and we have to cut out the bad part and sew the two good ends together," the physician explained.

"And I said, `You're going to do an end-to-end anastamosis.' He said, `How do you know that?' And I said, `Oh, I did many of them on `M.A.S.H.' That was the first operation I learned about on M.A.S.H.'"

After the classroom erupted in laughter, Alda concluded:

"He didn't waste any time on me trying to figure what he was talking about. He said it in the clearest terms possible. He didn't sacrifice any accuracy by making it clear."

Also on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Amanda Peet

    With celebrities such as former Playboy model Jenny McCarthy pushing the discredited idea that vaccines cause autism, researchers and public health officials have worried about the resurgence of preventable childhood diseases. Actress Amanda Peet lent her celebrity shine to the cause of vaccination in 2008 when she became the spokeswoman for the group Every Child By Two, an organization that encourages childhood vaccination. Peet used her own experiences as a new mother to encourage parents to get vaccine information from reliable sources. "What became clear to us after all of our research was that scientists around the world clearly refuted any connection between vaccines and autism or other disorders. Most importantly, I learned that delaying vaccines could jeopardize our baby's life," Peet wrote on the website, vaccinateyourbaby.org. "After my experiences I realized that many parents must be going through the same turmoil over this critical decision. I was determined to do whatever I could to help parents like us get the facts straight on this very important issue."

  • Natalie Portman

    Queen Amidala was only the beginning. Movie star Natalie Portman started acting as a child, but kept her academic dreams alive, too, graduating from Harvard University in 2003 with a bachelor's in psychology. She was a semifinalist in the Intel Science Talent Search in 1998 and a co-author on a study published in the journal NeuroImage in 2002 under her given name, Natalie Hershlag.

  • will.i.am

    Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am might be partially responsible for unleashing the song "My Humps" into the world, but he's also a supporter of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. In August 2011, will.i.am paired up with Segway founder Dean Kamen to produce a television special called "i.am.FIRST -- Science is Rock and Roll." The special followed the 20th annual FIRST Championship, a robotics competition for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. The singer also promotes education with his foundation, the i.am scholarship.

  • Hedy Lamarr

    Viennese actress Hedy Lamarr got a notorious start to her acting career by appearing nude in the film "Extase" (Ecstasy) -- in 1933. More to the point, Lamarr was an inventor. Along with composer and amateur endocrinologist George Antheil, Lamarr created a system for torpedo guidance that would use signals broadcast over multiple radio frequencies, swapping (or "hopping") from frequency to frequency. They got a patent on the idea in 1942. The idea didn't catch on immediately, most likely because Navy officials believed that the system would never fit on their planes. But in 1957, other engineers perfected the concept and put it into use. Lamarr died in 2000 after having been retired from public life for decades.

  • Brian Cox

    Particle physicist Brian Cox now works at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, but in the 1990s, he was better known for making music than for searching for mysterious subatomic particles. Cox was already studying for his physics doctorate when he played keyboard for the U.K. pop band D:Ream. Now, he stays in the limelight as a frequent presenter and guest on the BBC. He also briefly rejoined D:Ream in 2011 to play on the band's 2011 single, "Gods in the Making." He's also been a blunt supporter of science in the media and on Twitter, blasting conspiracy theorists who expect a 2012 doomsday, for example.

  • Tom Hanks

    Tom Hanks once dreamed of being an astronaut. That dream didn't come true, but he did get to play one in the 1995 movie "Apollo 13." The actor has also been a strong supporter of NASA and its manned missions, serving on the board of the National Space Society and producing documentaries about NASA's moon landings. He's even been honored for his efforts on behalf of space exploration by the nonprofit Space Foundation, which gave him the Douglas S. Morrow Public Outreach Award in 2006.

  • Leonardo DiCaprio

    The environment is a favorite cause for celebrities, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio is one of the first in the ranks of environment-minded stars. In 2007, DiCaprio produced the film "The 11th Hour," a documentary about climate change, biodiversity and conservation that featured such scientists as physicist Stephen Hawking. The actor has also put his money where his mouth is, donating $1 million in 2010 through the World Wildlife Fund for tiger conservation.

  • Brian May

    Brian May will rock you ... with guitar licks and astrophysics. This founding member of the rock band Queen was working on his doctorate in physics when the band took off; he took off three decades to rock and then turned his efforts away from stardom and toward the stars, earning his degree in astrophysics in 2008. May has even had an asteroid named after him: asteroid 52665 Brianmay. More recently, May has become a conservationist, focusing on ending fox hunting and badger-culling in Britain.