Announcing the winner of this year’s ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ contest

It’s not enough to do good research. You have to communicate it—not just to the other people in your academic department, but to anyone. That can be difficult if, for example, you work in an abstract branch of mathematics. A long talk full of equations won’t cut it. Sometimes you need to pull out science’s most powerful and top-secret communication tool: interpretive dance.

That’s exactly what Nancy Scherich did. Her Ph.D. research at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is in topology, the study of geometry in which shape and size don’t matter. Her focus is on braid theory; she spends her days “with paper and pencil” to find the rules that determine the unique representations of twists and knots in high-dimensional spaces. So naturally, she created a dance to explain it with aerial silk acrobatics and glowing hula hoops. Look for the mathematical plot twist. (Spoiler alert: It involves linear algebra and murder!)

Scherich is the overall winner of this year’s “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest. This is the 10th year of a challenge laid down by Science and AAAS for researchers to explain their work with dance moves. Scherich is joined by three other researchers who won in their scientific categories with dances explaining their work on sea star ecology, the psychology of creativity, and the biochemistry of criminal forensics. That last one, by Natália Oliveira at the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, is also the winner of our online audience favorite award. In all, 53 scientists from around the world submitted dances.

Why do they do it? The $2500 in cash prizes probably doesn’t hurt. But the main reasons, according to a survey of the contestants, range from edging out their nondancing peers to winning scholarships to finding love. Whatever the motivation, we all end up with some truly stunning videos.

Chemistry, People’s Choice

Natália Oliveira from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Recife, Brazil, with “Development of biosensors for forensic sciences applications.”

Social sciences

Judit Pétervári from Queen Mary University of London with “The evaluation of creative ideas—analyzing the differences between expert and novice judges.”

Biology

Monica Moritsch from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with “Intertidal community consequences of sea star wasting syndrome.”

This year's judges:

Katrien KolenbergAstrophysicist at the University of Leuven in Belgium and inaugural Ph.D. dancer

Carl Flink, Choreographer and director of the Black Label Movement and professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis

Alexa MeadeArtist and visual engineer

Kieran Gourley, Mathematician and professional ballet dancer in Sydney, Australia

Matt KentEmily KentRenée JaworskiPilobolus