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'Dance Your Ph.D.' Winner Announced

20 October 2011 2:00 pm
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Joel Miller, a biomedical engineer at the University of Western Australia in Perth, has won the grand prize in Science's fourth annual "Dance Your Ph.D." contest, a competition that recognizes the best dance interpretations of scientific doctoral work. Miller's entry (seen above), which also notched the top score in the physics category, was based on his Ph.D. research using lasers to create titanium alloys strong and flexible enough for long-lasting hip replacements. Science also crowned winners in three other categories—chemistry, biology, and social sciences—for dances based on x-ray crystallography, fruit fly sex, and pigeon courtship.

The rules of the contest were simple: Each dance had to be based on a scientist's Ph.D. research, and that scientist had to be part of the dance. A record 55 dances were submitted to this year's contest, covering everything from psychology to astrophysics. Last week, 16 finalists were chosen by six previous winners of the contest. The finalists were then scored by a panel of judges that included scientists from Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Boston University, as well as choreographers from Pilobolus and the entire dance cast of Shadowland.

As the grand-prize winner, Miller takes home $1000 and gets a free trip to Belgium to be crowned champion 22 November at TEDxBrussels, a gathering of scientists, artists, and business leaders. Miller's entry was unusual in that, unlike all of the other entrants, he didn't film his dance. "We didn't have a video camera," he says. So he and his friends shot a series of 2200 still photographs of the dance in action and then converted the photos into stop-motion animation. That allowed Miller to appear to fly over the ground wearing silvery spandex and a cape as he danced with women representing titanium's alpha and beta crystalline forms.

The Ph.D. research of the three other winners, who will receive $500 each, made for equally compelling dances. Cedric Tan, a biologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom who won the biology category, depicted the mating dance of the fruit fly, capturing the way that male flies stalk and sniff females. He also incorporated his research on how choosy females prefer to mate with flies that are brothers and how that relation reduces violence between the males.

Biology

Smell mediated response to relatedness of potential mates

Individuals often migrate from their place of origin in a relatively slow pace. As such, related individuals frequently interact. Relatedness between two individuals is defined as the percentage of genes in those two individuals that...
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In the chemistry category, FoSheng Hsu, a chemist at Cornell University, guides viewers through the entire sequence of steps required for x-ray crystallography. The solo dance begins with Hsu as a bacterium spitting out raw protein and ends with him break dancing as the three-dimensional structure of a protein.

Chemistry

Using x-ray crystallography to solve protein structure is the focus in our lab. The dance interprets the difficult and time consuming process of obtaining a 3-dimensional protein structure, which is crucial for not just understanding...
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The social science prize went to Emma Ware, a behavioral biologist at Queen's University in Canada. For her Ph.D. research, she presented male pigeons with closed-circuit video of females in separate cages and then recorded the males performing courtship dances. To test what the males actually pay attention to while they're courting, she tricked them by presenting video of the females with an increasingly long delay, making it seem as though the males were being dissed. Ware replicated that experiment with a human dance partner, pulling off an impressive choreographic feat.

Social Science

A Study of Social Interactivity Using Pigeon Courtship

This PhD study challenges the traditional 'stimulus-release' model of social interaction. Animal social interactions are commonly described as a ‘chain of reciprocal signals’ where each signal is successively ‘released’ by stimuli present in the signal preceding it (Tinbergen).
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If you've got a dance of your own (or want to make one), and you didn't submit it this year, never fear. The Dance Your Ph.D. contest will be back next year!

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