In a dance video by Uma Nagendra, aerial dancers hang upside-down on trapezes and extend their green-clad legs skyward, like plant seedlings stretching toward the light. Below, other dancers in brown roll toward them and shoot their arms out in ominous, percussive movements. Next, a tornado hits, fundamentally changing the balance between the dancers in the air and their pathogen-like counterparts.
The performance expresses Nagendra's Ph.D. thesis, "Plant-soil feedbacks after severe tornado damage," and has earned the top prize in Science's 2014 "Dance Your Ph.D." competition.
When she isn't out in the forest gathering data for her Ph.D. in plant biology at the University of Georgia, Athens, Nagendra spends a good deal of her time hanging upside down from a trapeze doing circus aerials. "It turns out that there are a lot of scientists doing it," she told Science.
The contest, now in its 7th year, is sponsored by Science magazine, AAAS, and Highwire Press. Based on votes from previous winners and an independent panel of artists and scientists, Nagendra has won both the Biology category and the overall prize: $1000 and a trip to screen her video at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
The judges also named winners in categories of chemistry, physics, social science and reader favorite. Further coverage, including all of the winning videos, is available at Science.