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Dance Your Ph.D.: And the Winner Is …

21 November 2013 3:15 am
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The votes are in, and the top prize for the 2013 “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest goes to … Cedric Tan, a biologist at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, who finished his Ph.D. there last year with a thesis titled “Sperm competition between brothers and female choice.” His dance interpretation of that research illustrates the chicken mating process using a range of styles, from swing and water ballet—yes, in actual water—to modern jazz and what can only be described as cockfighting.

The contest, now in its 6th year, is sponsored by Science magazine and AAAS (publisher of ScienceNOW). Based on votes from previous winners and an independent panel of artists and scientists, Tan won both the Biology category and the overall prize: $1000 and a trip—sponsored by HighWire Press—to screen his video at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. 

Tan spent a year on his video, in the midst of a busy field season massaging male chickens to extract their sperm. “I assembled the team, trained them, forced tight skimpy attires on them (they complained a lot), forced them into the freezing cold lake (they hated me for it),” Tan explains by e-mail. You may recognize Tan's vibrant style and sense of humor from his 2011 fruit fly dance. His research has involved both behavioral studies with fruit flies and the physiology and reproductive outcomes of mating chickens, so he made separate dances. (The contest rules do not prohibit multiple entries in different years.)

Other finalists also showed their dance chops. Ambalika Khadria, a biochemistry Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, demonstrated her experimental methods—a trick for revealing whether proteins are linked together in pairs—literally with colored masks and fluorescent light, scooping the Chemistry category prize.

Chemistry winner

Timothy Hunter, who left academia for industry and now works at Wolf Star Technologies in Milwaukee, took home the top prize in the Physics category; he demonstrated his Ph.D. on metal fatigue by using the forces between human bodies as an analog. He even used the dancers to depict data graphs.

Physics winner

And the Social Sciences prize went to Tina Sundelin, a Ph.D. student at Stockholm University. In a certain sense, all graduate students study the effects of sleep deprivation (on themselves), but for Sundelin it’s the actual focus of her research, and she depicted it with a controlled dance experiment: Two versions of her danced their way through a day, one fully rested and one sleep deprived. 

Social sciences winner

The results of the online survey are also in. The winner of the Reader Favorite award is Andres Florez's salsa-dance interpretation of his cancer cell biology Ph.D. It may be the most artistic use of a squash court yet.

Reader favorite

Congratulations to all of the 31 submissions that made this the best year yet. Who knew there were so many talented dancing scientists out there?

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