Who says scientists are awkward and ungraceful?
Thirty-six different videos on YouTube prove that wrong, as researchers translate their doctoral dissertations into interpretive dances, both solo and ensemble.
Four women in black cavort to '80s new-wave dance tunes to explain the evolution of smell in mammals.
Three MIT grad students boogie to Curtis Mayfield's "Move On Up" to represent nitrous oxide contribution to global warming.
Two lobsters gyrate with hula hoops to the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" as a passing seal senses their movements with his whiskers.
It's all part of the second "Dance Your PhD" contest organized by John Bohannon, the "Gonzo Scientist" columnist at the esteemed research journal Science.
In early October, he threw down a challenge to researchers in all fields in three categories — grad student, post-doctoral and professorial.
Each dance had to feature the author of the dissertation in a main role, and each clip had to be uploaded to YouTube by the deadline.
By 11 p.m. EST on Nov. 16, three dozen entries had come in, though it must be noted that at least five were filmed in the same room during an academic retreat at Harvard's forest-research facility in rural Massachusetts that weekend.
Female researchers seem to have an affinity for Latin and swing dancing, while two different guys who'd studied at Berkeley chose hip-hop to explain polymerizing proteins and increasing rates of climate change respectively.
The winners? Endocrinologist Sue Lynn Lau of the University of Sydney, Australia, topped the grad-student category with a light-hearted ensemble examination of, as her dissertation title put it, "The Role of Vitamin D in Beta-Cell Function."
Neurologist Miriam Sach of the University of California, San Diego, took the post-doc prize with a fascinating solo interpretation of how different sectors of the brain light up when speaking regular versus irregular verbs.
Biologist Vince LiCata of Louisiana State won the professorial stakes with a six-part modern dance piece illustrating the interactions of pairs of hemoglobin molecules in red blood cells.
The popular choice award went to Markita Landry, a statuesque physics grad student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, whose sensual tango represents measuring protein folding using focused lasers. (Bohannon notes that "it didn't hurt that Landry was the first to enter the contest.")
So what's the prize? All four winners now team up with professional choreographers, who will meld the winning entries into a single piece to be entitled "This Is Science" and performed during the American Association for the Advancement of Science's next annual meeting, scheduled for February in Chicago.
The winners will have front-row seats.