Feb
20

Dance Your PhD

Thanks, Eva Niewiadomski from Catalyst Ranch for passing this article along!

In Chicago, researchers hold finale to ‘Dance Your PhD’
Scholars put their papers into choreographed motion

By Robert Mitchum | Tribune reporter

February 16, 2009

The lights came up on five dancers wearing plastic wrap, fishnet and white face paint. As they moved in slow synchronization, a tall shirtless man wearing a red sparkly skirt prowled among them in a slow-motion pop-and-lock.

It wasn’t your typical scientific presentation.

But it was, indeed, science: the finale of the “Dance Your PhD” contest organized by the American Association for the Advancement of Science to coincide with their annual meeting in Chicago last weekend. Science
journalist John Bohannon challenged scientists around the world to communicate their research in the form of dance and drew more than 100 videotaped replies posted to YouTube.

The four winners of that contest were on hand Friday night at Architectural Artifacts, a Northwest Side warehouse converted into an antique bazaar, to present-and explain-their videos. They then joined
the audience of scientists and dance enthusiasts to watch the premiere of “This Is Science,” a four-part dance created by Chicago choreographers in collaboration with the scientist winners, who submitted their research as its source material.

So “Salt Dependence of DNA binding by Thermus aquaticus and Escherichia coli DNA Polymerases,” a paper by Professor Category winner Vince LiCata of Louisiana State University, featured two tattooed men attaching women to ropes dangling from an overhead catwalk and twirling them as they posed in a vaguely double-helix shape. Of course!

Though the meaning wasn’t always clear, the dances did suggest the beauty and dynamism of the scientific process, so often lost in the PowerPoint presentations and clunky jargon of academic meetings. That
man dressed in red? A laser, studying viral packaging motors, which create forces as strong as an atomic bomb, according to that dance’s “scientific adviser,” Markita Landry of the University of Illinois
.
“How amazing that scientists around the world busy with lab work took a break to do something as bizarre as this,” Bohannon said, clad in a white disco leisure suit. “I love that.”

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