This week of Nobel Prize excitement is also the season of some other less-heralded scientific contests, including my personal favorite, the “Dance your PhD” contest sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Graduate students submit videos of their efforts to use dance to explain their research to non-scientist audiences, and anyone can help to elect the winner. I adore this contest because it combines scientific discovery, science communication for lay audiences, and last but certainly not least, the madcap side of graduate school.
This year’s entries are really creative – I’m especially fond of the dance by Diana Davis, “Cutting Sequences on the Double Pentagon,” for its beautiful visual explanation of a complex mathematical concept, and of Peter Liddicot’s “A Super-Alloy is Born: The Romantic Revolution of Lightness & Strength,” for its lighthearted depiction (featuring a unicycle, a toy microscope, and even some gold lamé) of the formation of a new kind of lightweight aluminum.
But my favorite, shown above, is Carrie Seltzer’s “Seed Dispersal and Regeneration in a Tanzanian Rain Forest.” I admit I’m a bit biased here. My own dissertation research was focused on obese, diabetic rats. I’ve always thought that if I were to dance my dissertation I would need some people dressed in rat costumes, a là the “Rodents of Unusual Size” in the movie The Princess Bride. Carrie’s dance does a great job of explaining her research, and she herself gets to don a giant-rat costume to do so.
There are still a few days left to vote for the dance you like best; the winner will be announced on Monday, Oct. 15.