Dance video contest spices up science [video]

How about a little salsa with your science?

That’s one of the dances that helped Jacob Brubert stomp the competition during the ninth annual “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest sponsored by Science magazine and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The contest, which ended September 30, invited scientists and Ph.D. students to explain complicated research and projects through dance.

Brubert, a 26-year-old Englishman studying biomedical engineering at the University of Cambridge during the competition, said the contest represented another way to show his work and reach a wider audience. Besides salsa dancing, Brubert’s video incorporated tap dance, break dancing, circus antics and subtitles to explain a polymeric prosthetic heart valve.

“I had sat through far too many boring PowerPoint presentations and I tried to make my PowerPoint more engaging and interesting and this felt like the ultimate ‘We can really do it differently,’” said Brubert, now attending medical school at the University of Oxford. He won a $1,000 prize and will present his video in Boston at AAAS’ annual meeting next year.

John Bohannon, a contributing correspondent at AAAS, created the contest in 2007. It was born out of a New Year’s Eve party in Vienna that Bohannon had attended months earlier when he had been celebrating with scientists. Most of them were Ph.D. students, and he wanted them on the dance floor.

“You can usually motivate Ph.D. students with free food and competition,” said Bohannon, who completed his own Ph.D. in molecular biology in 2002.

The contest has grown from about a dozen entries that first year to 60 submissions from all over the world in 2016. The contest is open to anyone who has a Ph.D. or is working on one.

“Science is already something that crosses borders, but science as a dance is maybe the most universal way to explain something really complicated,” Bohannon said.

Brubert heard about the contest several years ago and spent a year brainstorming and a month executing the concept. He gathered 20 former classmates for the cast, and took about a week to edit the footage into a 6:45 video. Brubert and his girlfriend, Cassi Henderson, share frequent cameos throughout.

“It was wonderful fun, it was absolutely great,” Brubert said. “I’ve been telling every person I know who has done or who is doing a Ph.D. to do it. It is really an awesome thing to do.”

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.