When Florence Metz turned in her Ph.D. thesis on water protection policy this year at the University of Bern in Switzerland, she thought her work was done. But then a friend sent her an email with congratulations and an order: "Dance your Ph.D.!"
The friend was referring to Science's annual contest, which challenges scientists to explain their research through interpretive dance. But Metz only had 3 weeks to go before the deadline. "Everything had to go fast," she says, so she recruited a small army of friends to help her create a dance video that combines hip hop, salsa, and even acro-yoga. Each dance style represented a different interest group that shapes the evolution of policies around water resources.
Her quick thinking paid off: Metz has bested 31 other teams to become this year’s Dance Your Ph.D. winner. The judges gave her top marks not only for the work's scientific and artistic merit but how she creatively combined both. She takes home $1000 and a trip to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, in the spring—thanks to HighWire Press, Science's online publishing platform—where she'll screen her dance video and give a talk. It is the first time a social scientist has scooped the top prize in the contest's 8-year history.
This year's crop of dances was unusually strong in traditional choreographic technique. Besides the overall prize, there are $500 prizes for four categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science, the last of which Metz won. Like Metz, the winners of the other three prizes all have dance training of one kind or another and used it. For biology, Pearl Lee brought her ballet skills to bear on her Ph.D. research on tropoelastin—the precursor protein that builds connective tissue—at the University of Sydney in Australia. For the winner of the physics prize, Merritt Moore, a Ph.D. student at the University of Oxford, in the United Kingdom, it was tango, which she used to explain her research on entangled photons. (Get it?)
Perhaps the most elaborate of the dances, certainly in terms of costumes, came from the chemistry winner Jyaysi Desai, a Ph.D. student at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. She used dance elements from Bollywood to capture her research on the molecular nets of DNA and protein that white blood cells cast into infection sites to trap bacteria. She won the Audience Favorite award by a landslide.
"My main aim with this video was to make people laugh," Metz says. But she's now finding that the dance helps people understand her work better. "This bridge between academia and the nonacademic world is crucial."
This year's winners:
SOCIAL SCIENCE and overall winner:
"Do policy networks matter to explain policy design?" (see video, above)
Ph.D. student, University of Bern, Switzerland
"Exploring multi-photon states for quantum information applications"
Ph.D. student, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
"Cellular interactions with tropoelastin"
Ph.D. student, University of Sydney, Australia
CHEMISTRY winner and AUDIENCE FAVORITE:
"Molecular mechanisms involved in neutrophil extracellular trap (NET) formation"
Ph.D. student, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany
This year's judges:
Allan Adams, Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT)
Rebecca Saxe, MIT
Suzanne Walsh, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Dimitar Sasselov, Harvard University
Matt Kent, associate artistic director, Pilobolus
Emily Kent, education coordinator, Pilobolus
Renee Jaworski, associate artistic director, Pilobolus
And the winners of the previous 7 years of the Dance Your Ph.D. contest.