Scientist Awarded For Explaining PhD Through Dance

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Before you stop reading and think that yours truly may have overindulged on the wine at a particularly long boozy lunch, allow me to explain. The “Dance Your PhD” contest has been running since 2007, and rewards doctoral students who can effectively explain their research through dance.

Nagendra lives in New Orleans and was inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She wrote in the magazine Science that she was intrigued by the way in which the “natural world recovers from disasters”. The publication sponsors the contest, along with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Highwire Press.

Dance Your PhD: The concept behind the dance

Nagendra’s winning video features her and five other aerialists wearing bright green tights, performing acrobatics on the trapeze in order to illustrate “how several different species of tree seedlings in the southern Appalachian Mountains interact with soil organisms—and how tornadoes might mix things up.” The video shows a tornado ripping through an otherwise tranquil forest, stirring up pathogens and changing the forest environment.

Her efforts won her the biology category and the overall 2014 title. The victory gains her a place on the judges panel for next year’s contest.

Dance Your PhD: Improving accessibility of doctoral research

According to Hans Rinderknecht, an MIT student whose video won the physics category, the contest allows researchers to remove their work from “this very abstract, very mathematical place and [put] it into a form where people can relate” through dance, which he calls a “universal medium.”

As well as helping people from a non-scientific background to understand their research, Rinderknecht claims that it is also of benefit to the scientists, improving the ways in which they communicate their ideas.

Another contestant, Venanzio Cichella, stated that “if everybody who does complicated research in science will have a chance to express their research, not necessarily in dance even, but in something easier that can reach everybody, that would be awesome, because science and progress will be open to everybody.”

Biology and Overall: Uma Nagendra

Physics: Hans Rinderknecht

Chemistry: Saioa Alvarez

Social Science: David Manzano Cosano

Online Audience Vote: Venanzio Cichella

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