Scientists dance their dissertations

Leo sez, "An international contest: Scientists dance in order to interpret a doctoral thesis by prancing about. One the winners was : 'Cerebral activation patterns induced by inflection of regular and irregular verbs with positron emission tomography. A comparison between single subject and group analysis'"

The 2009 AAAS/Science Dance Contest (Thanks, Leo!)


  1. As a PhD student, I think that this is quite possibly the most brilliant exercise of academic creativity I have ever seen. My friends and I often suggest interpretive dance as a way to present our work. (As in, “You know, instead of writing this semiotics paper, I think I’ll just do an interpretive dance,” or “At your presentation, we’ll be there to perform interpretive dance.”) This is what grad school does to us. I fully expect that I’ll be sending in a submission to a future contest.

  2. Awesome. Was this context inspired, perchance, by the career of physicist/dancer Catherine Asaro?

    Yeah, and she writes SF, too. Some people just have heaps of talent!)

  3. This is definitely a lot of fun. Dance has actually been a part of my field, physical chemistry, for quite a while. Molecules vibrate in a bunch of different, interesting ways, and over time they’ve come to get some pretty fanciful names: breathing, rocking, wagging and “the hula twist”. Before the advent of powerpoint and embedded movies, it was quite common to see professors doing a little dance to illustrate these movements.

    For instance, here’s a very nice example of a methyl-group breathing mode. Really.

  4. Somewere a doddering semi retired Corporate VP is saying “an I paid for 5 years of university for this?”

    I believe hell is a place where interpretive dance practitioners are forced to watch every interpretive dance ala clockwork orange for eternity.

  5. I admit that I don’t totally get this but as a systems administrator, we used to have a joke that when a server went down it was necessary to do a little jig in front of the affected hardware to inspire it to function again and would take turns flailing around like idiots in the data center to appease the server gods. I’ve no verifiable evidence that it ever worked but perhaps the release of endorphins caused by the laughter freed our brains to more quickly find the real technical problem and led to a speedier resolution of the problem.

  6. Well, having been through the PhD process, this is lame. I mean, feel free to dance your heart out but don’t try and tell me it’s an interpretation of your thesis. What nonsense.

    Why does Science struggle for acceptance by the Arts? It should be the other way around. As a famous dramatic actress once said to me “I wish I understood quantum physics, you’re lucky, you can read and understand Shakespeare anytime.”

  7. It reminds me of the scene in “The Big Lebowski” when The Dude and John Goodman’s character to to his landlord’s performance art gig.

  8. I like the juxtaposition of science and art. They are so often covering the same subjects just in different ways. There is a science to art and an art in science. When it all comes together it’s like one of those beautiful old engraved astrolabes in the display case at the science museum I always fawn over.

    Also, in defense of interpretive dance, it’s ridiculously fun to do. And when it’s good, it tends to be really really good.

  9. To all the haters

    This performance looks like what it is: an intentional exercise in interdisciplinary absurdity.

    Not all art needs to be a masterpiece.

    You don’t have to be an Olympic athlete to be allowed to play in the back yard.

    You don’t need to be a tantric master with breast implants to enjoy sex.

    You don’t need a degree from MIT to play suduko.

    Anyone can sing out loud while driving alone.

    Now, Stop projecting your own embarrassment and social discomfort onto others an relax a little.
    Occasionally it just feels good to be alive and live!

    Admittedly, I wouldn’t sit through a whole night of this kind of performance (unless i had very, very, very dear friends participating)
    but i don’t and neither do you.

  10. This is adorable. I don’t understand why anyone objects to this. Obviously the phds are having a little fun with their thesis projects. How does science struggle for “acceptance” by the arts?

  11. Having just graduated from a program that placed a heavy emphasis on student presentations (Bachelor of Science in Nursing), I feel that cantastoria should be an acceptable alternative to Power Point. Puppetry would be nice, too.

  12. Yeah, I totally got what she was saying–although I did have a brief moment of confusion, where I wasn’t sure if she was talking about PET scans or fMRI.

  13. That’s my kind of woman. She does science, can dance, and obviously has a sense of humor about herself.

  14. Nice cool science chick.

    I wish someone would find a video I watched once in an EKC interpretation class where a doctor acted out different cardiac arrhythmias – you’d love it. I’ve tried to find it, unsuccessfully.

  15. As a dancer, I find this amusing.
    This dance is totally uninspired however. It looks likes she’s satirizing modern dance.
    That would be like me saying Im going to explain my form of dance through science, and then I put on a lab coat and go “numbers numbers numbers, pi, formula, bunsen burner”.
    Dance actually can be very expressive, but this is unfortunately not.

  16. The whole point of this is the PhD tag, otherwise no one would bother. To me it’s sad because it kind of implies that science needs something else to be entertaining, artistic or what not. But that’s bad science. I do like the idea but it’s sad.

  17. Reminds me of this classic:

    Being filmed by dancing publicly as well as getting a PhD are both to be lauded. With all the work that goes into it, it’d be nice if the thesis committee danced for you at the end.

    On the other hand, you have the potential flaw:
    “Hermann Günther Grassmann (April 15, 1809, Stettin (Szczecin) – September 26, 1877, Stettin) was a German polymath, now admired as a brilliant mathematician, but his theorems were unappreciated during his lifetime ’cause you couldn’t dance to them.”

  18. @MercuryTransit

    “Why does Science struggle for acceptance by the Arts? It should be the other way around. As a famous dramatic actress once said to me ‘I wish I understood quantum physics, you’re lucky, you can read and understand Shakespeare anytime.'”

    Why does someone always have to bring up this uninformed opinion? The best people I’ve known in the Sciences and the best people I’ve known in the Arts have always had a great respect for and involvement with the other.

    There is amazing benefit to be had by trying to translate your work, regardless of your field, into another field, as it allows you to see things from different angles and make connections that you otherwise may not see. Look at some of the other contest winners and tell me that you don’t get a good feel for their dissertations simply by looking at the dance (the one Cory picked for this post was, to my mind, the most abstract of the bunch).

    Why shouldn’t we try to make our work understood to all? It’s intellectually dishonest to simply declare entire fields to be invalid because you think that they’re somehow lesser than another. Go out there and live a little. Get your peanut butter in your chocolate! Read some Stephen Hawking, then some Deleuze and Guattari. You’ll be better for it in the end.

  19. Well, this vuaguely reminds me of some Auts from Neal Stevenson’s Anathem. There were scientists and mathematicians who use song and dance as methods of calculation, like counting on your fingers but with more variation.

  20. I found her dance to be creative, energetic, and quite beautiful. However, I felt that the choice of music was somewhat lacking, and would have preferred her to dance to “Girls, Girls, Girls” by Motley Crue.


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