• November 21, 2014

Call to Scientists: 'Dance Your Ph.D.'

Stir-crazy doctoral students who want diversions from their dissertations have a new option: “Dance Your Ph.D.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science is sponsoring the project, a contest inspired by a wildly successful one last year at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology, in Vienna.

“The human body is an excellent medium for communicating science — perhaps not as data-rich as a peer-reviewed article, but far more exciting,” says the contest’s Web site. This year’s “Dance Your Ph.D.” is open to anyone with or in pursuit of a Ph.D. in science or related fields, according to the AAAS.

All contestants must upload to YouTube a video of a dance performance depicting their research. So far, there’s some stellar lindy hop and elegant ballet. In one video, a woman in fringed bell-bottoms hula-hoops with fire to Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Round.” It’s a fresh take on “Hydrodynamic Trail Detection in Marine Organisms,” Christin Murphy’s dissertation at the University of South Florida.

Lara Park, of Tufts University, was delighted to choreograph her research on “the role of folate in epigenetic regulation of colon carcinogenesis.” Once she heard about the contest, Ms. Park, a lifelong dancer and nutritional biochemist, says she “didn’t stop thinking about it.”

In her number, dancers representing DNA unwind their bodies to be transcribed. But alas, a diet deficient in folate — a vitamin found in leafy greens — inhibits that process, as dancers hold tight back bends over those in the role of DNA. In the end, the chaotic crowd congeals into a large tumor.

Ms. Park, who made the video in two hours, says dance can “improve how people understand some of these concepts.” The idea is similar to the choreographer Liz Lerman’s “nonfiction dancing” and the explanation of research at the Large Hadron Collider, set to a rap beat, that was posted last summer on YouTube.

Just a few days remain to “Dance Your Ph.D.” On Monday a panel of judges will name four winners. Each will have the chance to work with professional dancers to present an original work at the AAAS’s annual meeting, in February. —Sara Lipka

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