Getting Down to Their Dissertations

An international contest gets scientists to share their research through dance.

ByABC News
November 20, 2008, 2:28 PM

Nov. 20, 2008— -- It's not every day that world-class scientists trade in their lab coats and test tubes for spandex and hula hoops.

It was all part of a contest created by the journal Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science that challenged scientists and graduate students around the world to choreograph dances that represent their Ph.D theses and then post them on YouTube.

Masters of physics and biology turned to moves from breakdancing to ballet to express their work.

John Bohannon, the science journalist and former biologist who came up with the Dance Your Ph.D. competition, said the goal was to make science more accessible and shatter the image of the scientist as the dull and humorless geek.

The idea came from his own conference-going days, Bohannon said, when he'd watch a wee bit of alcohol push scientists from "wedding-like awkwardness" to Fred Astaire-like ease.

"What I noticed was that there's always this tipping point with scientists where they all really have fun and cut loose. And it kind of goes against the stereotype of the scientist as the dry, nerdy pencil neck. And so I wanted to demonstrate to the world that scientists really can dance," said Bohannon.

From his post as a visiting scholar at Harvard University, he rallied about 100 scientists from as far away as Australia to simplify a thesis on, for example, "Single Molecule Measurements of Protelomerase TelK-DNA Complexes" into a fiery tango.

The contest was announced six weeks ago and attracted 36 individual and group submissions. On Thursday, Science magazine will announce the four winners, who will work with professional choreographers to turn their research into a full-scale production to debut at the AAAS annual meeting in February 2009.

Miriam Sach, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California at San Diego, was thrilled about the opportunity to combine two personal interests -- science and dance -- and reach past the narrow confines of the scientific community.