Nov 21 2008 6:26pm

Super Science Dance Party: Jazz Hands and Particle Physics, Together At Last

A few days ago, the winners of the second annual AAAS/Science Dance Contest were announced after a six-week battle pitting chemists against biologists, physicists against neuroscientists, and Fosse against Balanchine. Responding to a challenge by Science Contributing Correspondent John Bohannon (a.k.a. “The Gonzo Scientist”), several dozen researchers in various fields choreographed dance interpretations of their Ph.D. theses, filmed their performances, and submitted them to YouTube. The winners were announced in four categories: Graduate Students, Postdocs, Professors, and Popular Choice (determined by number of views).

The winning videos are all available here, but I have to highlight my personal favorite: “The role of vitamin D in beta-cell function,” as performed by Ph.D. candidate Sue Lynn Lau. I can’t explain why I love this video so much, but I do. It may have something to do with the fact that the last ninety seconds are filled with a goofy, unbridled, and infectious happiness-in-dance-form that I honestly did not believe was possible anywhere outside of the end of A Charlie Brown Christmas. I think I have a dorky crush both on Lau and the guy who plays The Sun in her piece (it can’t be easy to dance that enthusiastically with a flashlight strapped to your head)...

Wasn’t that kind of great? I really hope this catches on and comes back bigger and even better next year. In fact, I don’t think we should stop until M.I.T. is the new Studio 54. Why hasn’t anyone combined science and dance before, when it’s clearly so entertaining? We have been missing out, people! We could have had Einstein explain relativity while doing the Robot (which would be especially sweet now that his theory’s just been provenyou got served, Newtonian Physics!). Wouldn’t everything have been better if Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg could have worked out all their ethical dilemmas over the course of a sexy tango? We could’ve had Copenhagen: The Musical! And don’t get me started on Richard Feynman, who probably had some sweet, sweet disco moves somewhere in his crazy bag of tricks.*

So, scientists: a plea from me to you...continue teasing out the secrets of the universe and explaining them to the rest of us; we appreciate that. But now we want you to do it whilst poppin’ and lockin’—or line dancing, tap dancing, swing dancing, doing the Worm, the Foxtrot, the Sprinkler, the Twist, the Mashed Potato, the Cabbage Patch—whatever you want, really. As long as it’s not the Electric Slide. Or the Alley Cat. For those dances must only be performed shamefully by very drunk people at weddings, and have no benefit to Science, or humanity at large. Thank you.

*Apologies for the fact that I’m a physics groupie; please feel free to substitute your own favorite scientists from your field of choice, and also better jokes.

jamie stafford-hill
1. seamus
ok, so i'm not real sure about the whole communicating science part of this project, i mean, i learned nothing from watching that video (in fact i may have learned less than nothing). but Science/Dance gets mad points for creativity, and i'm heartened (relieved) to know that the winners will be paired with professional choreographers for the big conference. i'd be totally on board for Science, The Musical!, however. i vote for an Edison/Tesla rock opera with music by AC/DC.

no Electric Slide? the authors of AMPA Receptors Do the Electric Slide are out of luck, then.
Tara Chang
2. tlchang
Have you been exposed to the wonder that is science/synchronized swimming?

Synchronized Swimming Mitosis
Irene Gallo
3. Irene
All's I wanna know is, how can someone capable of busting out the capoiera moves be so not-graceful the rest of the time. That's fantastic.

And since you brought up Copenhagen, Liz and I can start up our Copenhage Vs. Proof fight. Way to go.
eric orchard
4. orchard
Oh man this made me happy. I have a good friend who is an anthropologist and belly dancer. When she finished defending her PHD thesis on GMOs in Colombian agriculture she did a belly dance. Does that count?
Bridget McGovern
5. BMcGovern
@ orchard

Totally counts. Absolutely :) If and when I ever finish my dissertation, there will be a dance party the likes of which hasn't been seen since "Soul Train" ruled the airwaves with a fist of funk and iron...and I'm not even science-girl. So...yeah.
Julian Hall
6. Jules
Wow. That just plain rocks. Any dance to "Walking on Sunshine" has a chance of being great, but one about vitamin D? That's just perfect.
Estara Swanberg
7. Estara
Catherine Asaro must have combined them, according to her biography in the books, she was a Physics professor and used to be a ballerina for a company at Harvard. I wish they had this competition a bit earlier, I'd have loved to see her dance.
Bridget McGovern
8. BMcGovern
@ seamus #1

I just realized exactly how right you are when someone asked what the dissertation was *about* and all I could come up with off the top of my head was, "Vitamin D...and, uh...Katrina and the Waves, or something."

And yes, the AMPA Receptor people are indeed SOL. Everyone knows AMPA receptors do the Hokey Pokey.

@ irene #3

Copenhagen vs. Proof? Let's settle this West Side Story-style! Physics nerds=Sharks, Math geeks=Jets; time to bust out the switchblades, tap shoes, and graphing calculators...
9. rogerothornhill
Copenhagen wins hands down. The characters in Proof wouldn't even understand what the characters in Copenhagen were saying, and the latter group could simply win by exercising the Billy Flynn option. There's a certain differential if we're talking stage Proof or film Proof , but ultimately I have usually found it to be the case that the more incomprehensible the street fighter the better. Bar fights, of course, are an entirely different story.

Toss in the characters from Jumpers, though, and you'll really have some fun.

On this general topic: Lately, it feels as if more and more posts are turning into Ultimate Geek Celebrity Deathmatch, especially in the Comments sction. Maybe this could be a regular feature on the site (with or without Claymation)?

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