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Sharing Science Through Art: Explaining Ph.D. Results Through Dance

Colorful silhouettes of dancers
The Dance Your Ph.D. recognizes scientists who translate their Ph.D. research into a dance. | 深澤カラス/Adobe Stock

A three-part series looks at the AAAS programs that communicate the power of science and technology though creative approaches: visual art, dance and literature.

A group of graduate students in atmospheric science at the University of Helsinki have taken a bold, clever approach to explaining the computational study of atmospheric molecular clusters.

“Atmospheric Cluster Dynamics Code, short ACDC, predicts cluster formation, easy peasy,” Jakub Kubečka, Ivo Neefjes and Vitus Besel rapped in a video featuring an original song and choreographed dance that explains Kubečka’s Ph.D. research.

Their creative interpretation of a scientific process earned the top prize in the annual “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest hosted by Science and AAAS.

Since 2008, the contest has recognized researchers who show artistic and scientific merit in translating their Ph.D. thesis into a dance. The award is now sponsored by the artificial intelligence company Primer, where contest founder and former Science correspondent John Bohannon is the director of science.

“Our main goal was to show nonscientific muggles that science can be fun, silly and exciting,” Kubečka told Science earlier this year.

Over the years, the contest has honored dancing scientists whose work covers a broad range of scientific subject areas and dance styles, from explaining policy networks with acrobatics, hip hop and house dancing to highlighting a new approach to prosthetic heart valves with salsa, tap, hula-hooping and the worm.

In addition to the overall winner, winners are awarded in the categories of physics, chemistry, biology and social sciences. This year, the contest also included a category on research on any aspect of COVID-19 and its consequences to health and society. This category spanned all disciplines and was open to any researcher, regardless of their Ph.D. status.

The contest’s founder has emphasized the importance of communicating science in a way that resonates with the audience.

“The experiment is not the end of the story, because you still have to transmit that knowledge to other people,” said Bohannon in 2011 during a combination TED Talk and dance performance.

“If you’re trying to give someone the big picture of a complex idea, to really capture its essence, the fewer words you use, the better,” he said. “In fact, the ideal might be to use no words at all.”


Andrea Korte

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