Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dance your PhD: Viruses in Space and Muscle Demons

I'm a big fan of work at the intersection of science and art, so I quite enjoy watching the entries in the annual "Dance Your PhD" contest. Anyone who has completed a PhD in a science-related field can submit a dance video, with the only requirements being that the PhD has to participate in the dance and the video needs to convey something essential about the research.

This year's overall winner is from the chemistry category. Titled "A super-alloy is born: The romantic revolution of Lightness and Strength", University of Australia materials science PhD student Peter Liddicoat's entry includes several interludes, with a big dance number, alongside juggling, and a bit of clowning.

A couple of this year's biology entries seemed to have a speculative fictional flare that I think deserves a closer look.

The first video that caught my eye was the winner of the Biology category: "The Fable of the Agonist, the Antagonist, the Force and the Demon". Physiology PhD student Maria Vinti turned her thesis research into a surreal dance. Patients affected by stroke sometimes have difficulty moving their limbs because they cannot control the agonist and antagonist muscle groups. Injection of botulinum toxin (a powerful neurotoxin also known as "Botox") into overactive muscles can help ease this condition. Here's the science in dance form:

The Fable of the Agonist, the Antagonist, the Force and the Demon from Maria VINTI on Vimeo.

The second University of Texas graduate student Alaina Brinley's video is the only one to include a rocket and dancing astronauts. She turned her dissertation on "Epstein-Barr virus Reactivation During Spaceflight" into a ballet. Her research seems a bit worrying: 90% of the population carries the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can cause mononucleosis and is associated with some cancers. Spaceflight seems to "wake up" the virus, and cells infected with EBV don't die, even when they are seriously damaged, potentially making cancer serious health risk for astronauts on long-duration space missions.
Watch the dance version of her research:

Brinley:Dance your Dissertation from Alaina Brinley on Vimeo.

It's fun to watch these scientists share their passion for their research through dance. And if some of us viewers learn something new in the process, that's even better!

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