Watch Scientists Express Their Research in Interpretive Dances

Dancers performed as electrons, brain processes, and teaching tools.

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Feb 15 2019, 6:34pm

Winner, Social Science: “Movements as a Door for Learning Physics Concepts.” Image: Roni Zoha

Forget So You Think You Can Dance. If you really want an innovative dance-off, you should check out these videos of superconductive square dances and parties inside the brain.

Those are just some of the scenes showcased by the newly minted winners of the 11th annual “Dance Your PhD” contest. This delightfully nerdy competition challenges scientists to express their research through interpretative dance.

Founded in 2008 by science journalist John Bohannon, who is now the director of science at the AI company Primer, the event enlists a panel of artists and scientists to judge videos submitted under the categories of physics, biology, chemistry, and social science. Each category has its own award, and an overall winner is selected to receive a $1,000 prize.

On Friday, the 2018 winners were announced at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Washington, DC. Enjoy the results of this performative geek-out.

Overall Winner: “Superconductivity: The Musical” (Physics)

The top prize was nabbed by Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a superconductivity expert at the University of Alberta who won the physics category with the help of his colleagues.

In the video, entitled “Superconductivity: The Musical,” dancers are cast as electrons at various temperatures. In the first stage of the performance, dancers simulate running along a wire as singles, before teaming up to create “Cooper pairs,” which are bonded electrons that make superconductivity possible at low temperatures.

"I remember hearing about Dance Your PhD many years ago and being amazed at all the entries," Yapa said in a statement. "This is definitely a longtime dream come true."

Winner, Biology: “The (Un)conscious Brain”

Olivia Gosseries, a neuropsychologist from the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, won the biology category with a video dramatizing what happens inside the brains of two patients who have experienced traumatic head injuries. Dancers representing various conscious processes demonstrate that these patients may have a lot of brain activity, even if they remain uncommunicative or comatose.

Winner, Chemistry: “Percolation Theory—Conducting Plastics!”

Ready to watch some more dancing electrons? Polymer expert Shari Finner won the chemistry category with a video based on her PhD from the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. In the routine, performers demonstrate how electrons move in different materials, such as polymers and carbon nanotubes. In the plastics segment of the video, the dancers are literally stuck in cling wrap to show that the electrons have reduced mobility.

Winner, Social Science: “Movements as a Door for Learning Physics Concepts”

This contest was practically tailor-made for interdisciplinary researchers like Roni Zohar, an avid dancer and neuroeducation specialist at the the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Zohar won the social science category with a performance based on her research into “embodied pedagogy,” which encourages the use of dance and other physical activities as creative teaching tools that “explain science by movement,” according to the video summary.

If this has got you hooked on scientific interpretive dance, all 50 entries to the 2018 contest are available to watch.

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