Ph.D. students explain their research using interpretive dance, results are awesome

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Have you ever wished you could deliver your Ph.D. thesis in the form of dance? There's a competition for that. For half a decade, scientists from all over the globe have been participating in Science's annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest. This year's winners were just announced, and they are every bit as excellent as we've come to expect.

The rules of Dance Your Ph.D. are simple:

1. You must have a Ph.D., or be working on one as a Ph.D. student.
2. Your Ph.D. must be in a science-related field.
3. You must be part of the dance.


In other words, the talent you see is straight from the Ph.D.s (or Ph.D. candidates) themselves. This year's contest attracted 36 dances featuring styles that ranged from ballet to breakdancing. The grand-prize winning dance came from Peter Liddicoat, a materials scientist at the University of Sydney in Australia. John Bohannon, who came up with the contest back in 2007, describes Liddicoat's entry:

Explaining a scientific Ph.D. thesis to nonscientists is never easy, even with words. Liddicoat's is titled "Evolution of nanostructural architecture in 7000 series aluminium alloys during strengthening by age-hardening and severe plastic deformation." But after 6 months of preparation, and the help of dozens of friends, he turned his Ph.D. into a burlesque artwork. The performance employs juggling, clowning, and a big dance number-representing the crystal lattices that he studies with atomic microscopy.


Listed below are the videos for this year's winning dances in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology and social science. Each of the winners will be awarded a $500 prize. Liddicoat will claim an additional 500 bucks and a free trip to Belgium, where he will be crowned winner of the 2012 DYPhD competition at TEDxBrussels.

Winner of the Chemistry Category (and Grand-Prize Winner)
Peter Liddicoat, University of Sydney, Australia
"A super-alloy is born: The romantic revolution of Lightness & Strength" (Video featured up top)

Taking an unconventional route, The Scientist tries a process of applying torsion to redesign the atomic architecture. He applies this revolving force to the crystal, dividing it into multiple smaller parts, and creates interfaces that might block slip. Alloying atoms are arranged on the interfaces to provide important adhesion between the small crystals. Nervously, the Scientist tests this new design and discovers the new material resists much greater force without breaking. This new material is a light-weight aluminium alloy with the strength of heavy steel, a new world record! [Read more about Liddicoat's research here]


Winner of the Physics Category
Diana Davis, Brown University, U.S.
"Cutting Sequences on the Double Pentagon, explained through dance"

My thesis investigates what happens to this color sequence when we change the pentagon surface. We "shear, cut and reassemble the pentagons," which is clearly shown in the video. This changes the original 8 lines on the pentagons to a different pattern — 4 lines, as it turns out. When Libby dances across these four lines, she's doing a different, shorter spiral around the bagel (if you will). She crosses four colored edges, which gives us a new sequence of Math Hatters.

Thesis question: What is the relationship between the 8-color sequence and the 4-color sequence?
Answer: Each Math Hatter checks to see if s/he has the same color on both sides, and if so, stays in line (keeps her hat), and if not, sadly has to leave (removes his hat).

That's my theorem: Shearing and reassembling the pentagons is equivalent to seeing if the colors are the same on both sides. [Read more about Davis's research here]


Winner of the Biology Category
Maria Vinti, Laboratoire de Biomécanique, Arts et Métiers, Paris Institute of Technology, France
"The Fable of the Agonist, the Antagonist, the Force and the Demon"

We imagined the situation of the people with stroke, who cannot move their limbs properly because of overactivity in antagonistic muscles (spastic cocontraction) whenever they try to command their agonists. [Read more about Vinti's research here]


Winner of the Social Science Category
Riccardo Da Re, University of Padua, Italy
"Governance of natural resources: Social Network Analysis and good governance indicators"

My Phd research tries to develop a methodology for the evaluation of good local governance of natural resources in rural areas, and in particular it focuses mainly on three aspects: i) the definition of the concept of ‘good governance' of natural resources at local level in rural areas, through the division of this huge term in key-dimensions and more concrete sub-dimensions; ii) the creation of a simple and expeditious set of indicators to be applied at local level to measure the good governance generated by the assessed organization; iii) the use of suitable instruments for the work, and special attention is given to social network analysis for the study of networks among local stakeholders. [Read more about Da Re's research here]


Read more about the competition over at Science NOW. Watch all 36 of this year's entries here.