Einstein meets Travolta

DE RERUM NATURA - Maria Isabel Garcia () - April 26, 2012 - 12:00am

It is a scary thought. We generally don’t think of scientists when it comes to dancing and no one came blame us, especially not the scientists. I myself know scientists whose dancing skills can make their own Petri dish organisms blush and run for cover. But now, samba, rumba, hip-hop, tango, techno or however you want to sway or jump freestyle, have become fair game to geeks when it comes to expressing their science.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and Science Magazine jointly launched the “Dance your PhD 2012” contest (http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2012/04/announcing-dance-your-phd-2012.html?ref=hp), a competition that is now already on its fifth year. As far as I can tell, any scientist can join as long as the contest is not illegal where you live. I do not know of any country though where dancing geeks are considered illegal; embarrassing maybe, but illegal? There are three simple rules to remember: 1) you must have a Ph.D. or working on one; 2) your Ph.D. must be in science or in a science-related field (i.e., mathematicians, economists, science history, engineers are also welcome aside from the more obvious kinds of scientists; and 3) you must be part of the dance.  

I could not stop laughing and admiring how much thought was put into the details of this contest (http://gonzolabs.org/dance/faq/#science-related-field). I particularly enjoyed the FAQ portion of the website where the first FAQ was “Are you serious?” And for the FAQ “How do I win?” the organizers simply said that the judges who are composed of scientists from Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as well as artists “should get it.” They are referring to the dance in that it should really be an interpretation of the essence of your Ph.D. research. I guess this means that if you are thinking of dancing a topic like “Quantum control of wave packet evolution with tailored femtosecond pulses,” it may be a good idea to get a very good choreographer.

I looked at the grand prize winner last year. It was Joel Miller who put together a series of photos he took of his dance resulting in an animated clip about titanium and its applications. It was really cool and something that could have come out of The Big Bang Theory series. He even had some of his friends join the dance which made it look so much fun. 

I took note of this contest because first, it reminds the scientists that it is okay (and even highly recommended) to use the arts to communicate your science. It will not take the place of your Ph.D. dissertation or your defense, but it will reach the non-scientists who will be affected, in various degrees, by your research. Second, it reveals to the public that scientists are no longer totally caged in their own jargon all the time. They now take their time to literally extend their limbs to move their science from only their own heads to our very amused and interested heads. Lastly, strangely enough, it reveals the real spirit of a Ph.D. — that you understand your topic well and filled with a sense of wonder (not to mention, humor) to dance it!

Scientists, get ready to dance. If your performance turns out to be riveting, you win at least $500 in your category or double that if you are the overall winner plus a trip to Belgium for the awarding at TEDxBrussels. If your groove does not move the judges, you always have your Ph.D. to fall back on. It may not be as glitzy but hey, you tried. Deadline for entries for dancing scientists is Oct. 1, 2012.

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For comments, e-mail dererumnaturastar@hotmail.com

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