Dance Your Ph.D.

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Dance Your Ph.D.
GenreScience & Art Competition
FounderJohn Bohannon
ParticipantsScientists who are working toward or have completed a Ph.D.
SponsorsAAAS, Science Magazine,

Dance Your Ph.D. is a contest wherein scientists express their research through dance. The purpose of the contest is to educate by explaining complex theories through interpretive dance. The contest was first held in 2008. Dance Your Ph.D. is sponsored by American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Science magazine, and, an artificial intelligence technology company.


Dance Your Ph.D. is an international science competition founded by John Bohannon, who studies microbiology and artificial intelligence, is a former contributing correspondent for Science, and the current Director of Science for Bohannon explained that the idea for Dance Your Ph.D. began at a New Year’s Eve party that was “heavy on scientist attendees and light on the dancing."[1] To get people up and moving, he turned the party into a dance contest where the attendees had to explain the research project they were working on without using words.[1]

Dance Your Ph.D. started as a live event at the IMP Vienna in 2008.[2] From across Europe, scientists gathered to watch their colleagues explain their Ph.D. thesis with interpretive dance. A Ph.D. or Doctor of Philosophy is the highest academic degree awarded in a course of study. Candidates pursuing a Ph.D. are required to engage in applied or original research to test a theory and to add to the existing body of knowledge in their particular discipline or field of study.[2]

Dance Your Ph.D. was never intended to develop into a yearly event, but the question starting coming from scientists around the world asking "When is the next dance contest?"[2] In response to the demand, Science officially launched the Dance Your Ph.D. contest in 2009 [2] The four winners from that year's contest worked with professional choreographers to conduct a scientific dance experiment where participants were asked to match the dance to the science that inspired it.[3]

In 2010, the categories for the event switched from grad students, postdocs, and professors to the scientific fields of biology, chemistry, physics, and social science.[4] In the first three years of the contest, Dance Your Ph.D. videos had been viewed over 750,000 times.[4] Bohannon surveyed everybody who had participated in the contest and asked them why they danced as scientists. He discovered that while most did it as a means of education, one danced to explore the spontaneous assembly and falling apart of the cell’s skeleton on microtubules while others did it to reexamine their work, similar to writing an abstract, or to celebrate the intersection of art and science.[4]

Winning entries[edit]

Year Winning Category Winner Title
2023 Chemistry Checkers Marshall nanoMOFs
2022 Biology Povilas Šimonis Electroporation of Yeast Cells
2020 Physics Jakub Kubečka Formation, Structure, and Stability of Atmospheric Molecular Clusters
2019 Social Science Antonia Groneberg Early Life Social Experiences Shape Social Avoidance Kinematics in Larval Zebrafish
2018 Physics Pramodh Senarath Yapa Superconductivity: The Musical!
2017 Physics Nancy Scherich Representations of the Braid Groups
2016 Chemistry Jacob Brubert A Polymeric Prosthetic Heart Valve
2015 Social Science Florence Metz How do Policy Networks Influence the Quality of our Policies
2014 Biology Uma Nagendra Plant-Soil Feedbacks After Severe Tornado Damage
2013 Biology Cedric Tan Sperm Competition Between Brothers and Female Choice
2012 Chemistry Peter Liddicoat A Super-Alloy Is Born: The Romantic Revolution of Lightness & Strength
2011 Physics Joel Miller Microstructure-Property Relationships in Ti2448 Components Produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story
2010 Chemistry Maureen McKeague Selection of a DNA Aptamer for Homocysteine using SELEX
2009 Graduate Student Sue Lynn Lau The Role of Vitamin D in Beta Cell Function
2008 First Content Brian Stewart Antelope Hunt

13th annual contest winners - 2020[edit]

Physics and Overall winner: Jakub Kubečka

Jakub Kubečka, Ivo Neefjes, and Vitus Besel are Ph.D. students of Atmospheric Science at the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research (INAR) at the University of Helsinki in Finland. In 4 minutes and 37 seconds, the researchers combine rap and dance to describe their research into the computational study of molecular clusters. Through their research, Kubečka et al. hope to, among other lines of inquiry, understand the processes related to atmospheric molecular clusters. “This can make it easier to evaluate the dangers posed by air pollution and hopefully lead to policies or technologies that improve, for example, urban air quality” says, Kubečka.[5]

Chemistry: Mikael Minier

Mikael Minier, Ph.D. is a graduate of MIT, a former member of inorganic chemistry Professor Stephen J. Lippard’s research group, and a current software engineer at WaveXR, located in Los Angeles. Minier’s interpretation of his dissertation “Biomimetic Carboxylate-Bridged Diiron Complexes: From Solution Behavior to Modeling the Secondary Coordination Sphere”[6] uses breaking, tutting, animation, robot, and waving dance styles to explain his thesis.[7] Minier, who has an interest in science edutainment, entered the competition to challenge himself to find an unconventional way to teach chemistry. He was able to combine his passion for dance with his chemistry background. “Moving forward, I hope to use gaming to explore edutainment in a professional capacity,” said Minier.[7]

Social Sciences: Magdalena Dorner-Pau

Magdalena Dorner-Pau is a postdoc at the University of Graz in Austria where she is a member of the Faculty of Humanities. Her areas of work include didactics of the humanities, teaching and learning research, language teaching research, didactics, and the performing arts. [8] Through dance, Dorner-Pau attempts to answer the question “how do we describe in words what we see?”[9]

Biology: Fanon Julienne

Fanon Julienne is a Postdoctoral researcher for Ariane Group in ENSAM and a student at Le Mans University in France where she is studying the problem of the accumulation of plastics in water. [10] In her dance explanation of her thesis "Fragmentation of plastics: effect of the environment and the nature of the polymer on the size and the shape of generated fragments" she illustrates how water and sun affect the breakdown of plastic and pollute the water using two teams of belly dancers.[11]

COVID-19: Heather Masson-Forsythe

Masson-Forsythe used ballet, modern dance, and hip hop to explain how to stop the coronavirus from replicating. She is a researcher at the Barbar Lab in the Biochemistry & Biophysics department of Oregon State University. In the final scene of the video a graphic appears stating “Dance choreography in this video takes place over 300 seconds, one second for every thousand people who have died from SARS-CoV-2 as of December 2020 in the United States alone.[12]

Previous overall winners[edit]

2020 - Jakub Kubečka (Physics)[edit]

See paragraph above

2019 - Antonia Groneberg (Social science)[edit]

Inspired by zebrafish larve, Groneberg’s choreography mixes science and dance into an intellectually reflective and artistically exquisite work of art that depicts how the motions of groups of zebrafish larvae stimulated each larvae’s behavior and brain development. She demonstrated the impact of this phenomenon by raising some larvae in isolation and documented the difference between the two groups. Groneberg has been a dancer since was young and taught jazz and modern dance as a side job as she pursued her doctorate in neuroscience at the Champalimaud Research Foundation located in Lisbon, Portugal.[13]

2018 - Pramodh Senarath Yapa (Physics)[edit]

Pramodh Senarath Yapa is a Ph.D. student at the University of Alberta who studies the physics of ultra-cold materials, including superconductivity. Superconductivity happens when single electrons pair up when cooled to super-low temperatures, resulting in the loss of electrical resistance. Once Yapa began to “…think of electrons as unsociable people who suddenly become joyful once paired up, imagining them as dancers was a no-brainer.” [14]

2017 - Nancy Scherich (Physics)[edit]

A doctoral student studying mathematics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Nancy Scherich called on her experience as a lifelong dancer to show how algebra is used to study geometric shapes. Scherich explained “…the first hurdle in communicating mathematics is to make the abstract concepts relevant and relatable to a largely math-phobic society. The human element of dancing helps to remove the veil of intimidation…”[15]

2016 - Jacob Brubert (Chemistry)[edit]

Using salsa, tap, and acrobatics, Jacob Brubert's “Dance Your Ph.D.” entry explains the science of heart valve bioengineering. Salsa dancers depict how one type of heart valve is made from animal tissue. The blood tolerates it well, but it has limited durability. Tap dancers are used to explain a mechanical valve with rigid leaflets. The valve is durable enough to outlive the patient, but it is poorly tolerated by the blood and requires lifelong anticoagulation. Searching for a better option, Brubert wonders if a flexible polymer might be used in prosthetic heart valves to achieve durability and blood compatibility. Using hula hoops, Cyr wheels, juggling and water pistols, Brubert shows that the blood flow in the polymeric valve is good and well tolerated by the blood. The durability is ok, but not good enough. Lamenting “why…..” the scientist falls to his knees as the experiment falls apart.[16]

2015 - Florence Metz (Social science)[edit]

Florence Metz was the first social scientist to claim the winner’s spot in the 8th Annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest.[17] Metz, studying at the University of Bern, used dance to explore the question of how to achieve effective water protection policies. Salsa, acrobatics and hip hop represent the diverse political groups who fight over and eventually come together to discuss the protection and use of water resources. In the video, Metz equates successful water policies to the choreography that unites the diverse dancers.[18]

2014 - Uma Nagendra (Biology)[edit]

Uma Negendra turned her love of doing circus aerials and her study of plant biology into a dance to explain her Ph.D.[19] She found that destructive forces like tornadoes are actually good for trees. Her research has shown that tree seedlings get a reprieve from certain parasitic fungi following a tornado which allows them to flourish. Uma and a group of aerialist friends hang from trapezes in a choreographed ballet to represent the mature tree, the seedlings, the pathogens, and the tornado.

2013 - Cedric Tan (Biology)[edit]

Cedric Tan, a biologist at University of Oxford took the top prize in 2013 for his research into the effect of brotherhood on sperm competition and female choice in the red jungle fowl.[20] According to Tan, …”the dance movements [swing, water ballet, and modern jazz] in this video reflect the competitive nature in the sperm world.” [21]

2012 - Peter Liddicoat (Chemistry)[edit]

Peter Liddicoat's PhD thesis is entitled the "Evolution of nanostructural architecture in 7000 series aluminium alloys during strengthening by age-hardening and severe plastic deformation.” Though at first reluctant to enter the Dance Your Ph.D. contest, he came to the “…realization that this would tackle head-on the ominous question, 'So what is your Ph.D. about?'"[22] Liddicoat, with the help of numerous friends, used clowning, juggling, and a big dance number to mimic the crystal lattices that he studies with atomic microscopy at Microscopy Australia's atom probe instrument at the University of Sydney.[22]

2011 - Joel Miller (Physics)[edit]

Joel Miller’s research at the University of Western Australia focused on how to overcome the main reason why orthopedic implants fail using new materials and advanced manufacturing processes with the hope of creating more durable implants that will reduce the need for revision surgery. Miller used 2,200 photographs to make the video as he did not have access to a video camera and “…also (and more importantly) because stop motion, even though tedious to shoot, is fun.” [23]

2010 - Maureen McKeague (Chemistry)[edit]

McKeague's Dance Your Ph.D. entry depicted an interpretation of her research on designer molecules. McKeague stated that the project was a group effort, just like her research, that involved every Ph.D. and undergraduate student working in Maria DeRosa's lab at Carleton University in Ottawa.

2009 - Sue Lynn Lau (Graduate student)[edit]

In 2009 the categories for Dance you Ph.D. were Graduate Student, Post-Doc, Professor, and Popular Choice

Sue Lynn Lau was a graduate student at the University of Sydney in Australia. Lau’s submission puts to dance the hypothesis that vitamin D could improve beta-call function and insulin secretion, thus protecting against diabetes.[24]

2008 - Brian Stewart[edit]

Brian Stewart, an archaeologist at Oxford and Giulia Saltini-Semerari, a fellow archaeologist, were the winners of the first ever Dance Your Ph.D. contest. Stewart was exploring how early humans in South Africa cooked, shared, and disposed of food through his thesis “Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, sharing, cooking and disposal at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa.[25] Their video featured Stewart as a hunter performing in a loin cloth and Saltini-Semerari as an antelope in a highly stylized chase in which the hunter kills the antelope, processes it, and distributes food.

How to enter[edit]

Participants must produce a video of the participant dancing his/her own Ph.D., solo or as part of an ensemble, and must (1) post that video on, complying with all of You Tube’s rules and regulations, including permission to use any music included in the video and the right to show the individuals depicted in the video; and (2) allow AAAS/Science Magazine to use the video for publicity. Winners are selected based on the aggregate of three scores: scientific merit, artistic merit, and the creative combination of science and art. Thus, the best dances insightfully reveal the scientific content of the Ph.D. thesis, show artistry to create a compelling spectacle, and creatively combine these two aspects into a successful production. The participant receiving the highest total score awarded by the panel of judges will win the Grand Prize, consisting of a payment of $1000 sponsored by AAAS/Science Magazine.[26]


  1. ^ a b Bowman, Emma. "Ph.D. Student Breaks Down Electron Physics Into A Swinging Musical". NPR. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d Bohannon, John. "Dance Your Ph.D.: Past Winners and Finalists". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  3. ^ Bohannon, John. "The Science Dance Match-Up Challenge". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Bohannan, John. "Why Do Scientists Dance?". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  5. ^ Schuster, Ruth. "Physicist Wins Dance Your Ph.D. With Trash-talking Rap on Molecular Clusters". Science & Health. Haaretz. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  6. ^ Minier, M.A. (2015). Biomimetic carboxylate-bridged diiron complexes: from solution behavior to modeling the secondary coordination sphere (Doctoral dissertation). Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  7. ^ a b Doughty, Danielle. "Mikael Minier (PhD '15), wins Science's annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest". MIT Chemistry. MIT. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  8. ^ University of Graz. "Faculty Page". Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  9. ^ Science ORF. "Stories". Science Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  10. ^ Julienne, Fanon. "Profile". The Conversation. Le Mans Université. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  11. ^ Gordemer, Barry. "Watch The Winners Of The 'Dance Your Ph.D' Contest Make Cloud Formation Catchy". NPR. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  12. ^ Masson-Forsythe, Heather. "COVID19 WINNER Dance Your PhD 2021: Biochemical & Biophysical Studies of the COVID-19 N Protein". You Tube. Retrieved 23 May 2021.
  13. ^ Travis, John. "Watch the winner of this year's 'Dance Your Ph.D.' contest". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  14. ^ Krämer, Katrina. "Jazzy superconductivity wins 11th Dance your PhD prize". Chemistry World. Royal Society of Chemistry. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  15. ^ Weisberger, Mindy. "This Video of 'Dancing Braids' Will Change How You Think About Mathematics". Live Science. Retrieved 5 June 2021.
  16. ^ "Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology". University of Cambridge.
  17. ^ Griggs, Mary Beth. "Water Policy Explained Through Dance Is The Best Thing You Will Watch Today". Popular Science. Popular Science. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  18. ^ Fessenden, Marissa. "The Many Ways to "Dance Your Ph.D"". Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  19. ^ Bohannon, John. "Dance Your Ph.D. winner announced". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  20. ^ Bohannon, John. "Dance Your Ph.D.: And the Winner Is …". Science. AAAS. Retrieved 13 June 2021.
  21. ^ Tan, Cedric. "Dance your PhD 2013 winner: Sperm competition between brothers and female choice". YouTube.
  22. ^ a b Bohannon, John. "Dance Your Ph.D.: And The Winner Is..." Science. AAAS. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  23. ^ Miller, Joe. "Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story". Vimeo. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  24. ^ Tierney, John. "Dancing With the Scientists". The New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  25. ^ PBS. "Scientists Turn Ph.D. Research Into Dance". PBS NewsHour. Retrieved 4 July 2021.
  26. ^ "Official rules". Retrieved 7 July 2021.

External links[edit]