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05/20/2002 07:00:00

Alan Alda to Speak at Caltech Commencement

.- Alan Alda, aka Richard Feynman, aka Hawkeye Pierce, will be the featured speaker at the California Institute of Technology's 108th annual commencement. The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on Friday, June 14, on Beckman Mall on the Caltech campus.

Alda is a longtime friend of science and of Caltech. He stars in the play QED, about the life of Feynman, the late Caltech Nobel laureate, and for eight years has been the host of the PBS show Scientific American Frontiers.

To most people Alda is best known as the irreverent doctor Hawkeye Pierce in the classic TV series, M*A*S*H. Over the 11 years he starred in the show, he wrote and directed many of the episodes, winning the Emmy Award five times.

It was Alda who wanted to develop a play about Richard Feynman, the Caltech professor of theoretical physics, who during World War II was a member of the Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb. Feynman went on to revolutionize the field of quantum electrodynamics, the theory of the interaction between light and matter (and the "QED" of the play Alda stars in). Feynman is credited with correcting faults in the science's basic theory, reinterpreting quantum mechanics and quantum electrodynamics from his unique perspective. For this work, he was a corecipient of the Nobel Prize in 1965.

Alda became intrigued with Feynman, who died of cancer in 1988, after reading a book about the last years of his life. Alda approached Gordon Davidson of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, who took it to writer Peter Parnell. With Davidson as director and Alda portraying Feynman, QED began its run at the Taper before moving on to New York. It will conclude its successful run at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater on June 10.

As to his commencement speech, Alda says, "The talk will deal with what I've learned during the years I've spent trying to find Feynman, and especially what I've learned about the difficulties—and the urgency—of communicating science."

Approximately 500 undergraduate and graduate students are expected to participate in the commencement ceremonies. Caltech, founded in 1891, has an enrollment of some 2,000 students, and a faculty of about 275 professorial members. The Institute has more than 19,000 alumni. Caltech employs a staff of about 2,500 on campus and 5,000 at JPL.

Contact: Mark Wheeler (626) 395-8733

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Written by Marcus Woo