Dancing Science Masters

Dancing to Epigenetics and Endocytosis

by John Bohannon on 14 October 2011, 4:08 PM

Dancing scientists! Stephen Steiner of MIT made a dance based on his study of the chemistry of carbon nanotubes.
Credit: Stephen Steiner

Have you ever wondered what nanotube chemistry might look like as a dance? Or fruit fly sex? Or protein x-ray crystallography? Look no further. As part of the 2011 Dance Your Ph.D. contest, scientists who study those phenomena and more have converted their research into dance videos for your enjoyment and edification. And today the 16 finalists of this annual contest are revealed below.

A record 55 dances were created for this year’s contest, submitted by scientists around the globe, from the United States and Canada to Europe, India, and Australia. As the contest rules state, each dance must be based on the scientist’s own Ph.D. research thesis, and that scientist must participate in the dance. For many of the graduate students who danced, the research they depicted is still ongoing. For some of the older contestants, the project is a distant, perhaps harrowing memory from their early days in science. The dances are divided into four categories based on subject: physics, chemistry, biology, and social science. (The criteria for those categories are explained here.)

To select the four top dances in each category, the winners of the 2009 and 2010 Dance Your Ph.D. contests scored each of this year’s 55 dances on three criteria: scientific merit, artistic merit, and the creative marriage of both. Watching the dances was “immensely interesting,” says Anne Goldenberg, a sociologist at the Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada and one of the winners of last year’s contest. (Her Ph.D. dance was about people’s interaction in online wikis.) This year’s contest was flooded with high-quality dances, says Markita Landry, a physicist at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and one of the 2009 winners. (She tangoed toatomic force microscopy.) “It was really hard to distinguish which were best,” she says.

Sex seems to be one of the dominant themes for this year’s contest. The finalists include a dance depicting fruit fly sex, by Cedric Tan, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. And Emma Ware, a research assistant at the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, created a dance around her research on pigeon courtship. And Hoda Eydgahi may not be doing research on sex, but the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) grad student’s research on the algorithmic modeling of biochemical networks made for a sexy MC Hammer dance.

The 16 finalists will now compete for a $500 prize in each category, as well as the ultimate prize: an additional $500 and a free trip to Belgium to be crowned the overall winner at TEDxBrussels on 22 November. Take a look at the dances below and choose your own favorites. The judging is under way by a group of scientists and artists whose identity will be revealed next week. The winners will be announced Thursday, 20 October, at 2 p.m. EDT.

You can browse all 55 of this year’s dances. And here, sorted by name in alphabetical order, are the 16 finalists:

To see the videos, go to:    http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2011/10/dancing-to-epigenetics-and-endoc.html?ref=hp