Move over, Jennifer Lopez and Shakira. Antonia Groneberg’s innovative depiction of zebrafish brain development has just reeled in Science’s annual “Dance Your Ph.D.” prize. A dancer since she was young, Groneberg taught students jazz and modern dance as a side job while pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at Champalimaud Research. When she heard about Science’s unusual contest, it seemed a natural fit. “Science and dance have always been my passions,” says Groneberg, who is now a postdoc at Charité University Hospital in Berlin.
That’s the pairing that Dance Your Ph.D., hosted by Science and AAAS, is seeking. The contest challenges scientists around the world to explain their research through the most jargon-free medium available: interpretive dance. “Antonia Groneberg’s choreography, inspired by zebrafish larvae, merged dance and science for an aesthetically stunning and intellectually profound masterwork of art,” says Alexa Meade, one of the contest judges and an artist who uses math and illusion in her work.
Groneberg’s doctoral thesis explored how the motions of groups of zebrafish larvae affected each individual animal’s brain development and behavior, teasing out the impact by raising some larvae in isolation and documenting any differences. “We used to joke that my Ph.D. was easily danceable as it’s about movement,” Groneberg says. “Some colleagues accused me of picking my thesis topic because of that.”
Largely shot over one hot weekend at Champalimaud Research, the video incorporates colleagues, some of her dance students, children of the adult participants, and others on the Lisbon, Portugal, campus. (Groneberg says she went around asking, “Do you have toddlers I can borrow?”)
Last year, a preliminary version of the video went viral among zebrafish researchers, Groneberg says—“You don’t see too many dance videos about fish larvae.”
The judges—a panel of world-renowned artists and scientists—chose Groneberg’s dance from 30 submissions based on both artistic and scientific merits. She takes home $1000 and a distinction shared by 11 past overall winners. “This year’s Dance Your Ph.D. featured some of the best combinations of science and interpretive dance I have seen! The competition made complicated subject-matters accessible while maintaining the integrity of the material,” Meade says.
This year’s contest covered four broad categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science. Groneberg won both the social science category and the overall prize. The judges said the physics category winner, a Finnish video about multispectral scanning of forests by Samuli Junttila, also deserved special recognition for its original rap and professional production. They called it “hilarious and yet scientifically informative,” citing its chorus, “Scan the trees! Scan the trees!”
Dance Your Ph.D. was devised by John Bohannon, a former contributing correspondent for Science who still runs the contest on its behalf. He is now director of science at Primer, an artificial intelligence company.
Some of the winning videos will be shown on 16 February at the annual AAAS meeting in Seattle.
These are the four category winners selected by the judging panel.
Overall winner and social science category winner
Antonia Groneberg, “Early life social experiences shape social avoidance kinematics in larval zebrafish”
Biology category winner
Katharina Hanika, “Impairing disease susceptibility genes to obtain resistance to Verticillium wilt in tomato”
Chemistry category winner
Jackie Zorz, “An integrated approach to improving efficiency in microbial bioenergy systems”
Physics category winner
Samuli Junttila, “Utilizing multispectral lidar in the detection of declined trees”
The 2019 Dance Your Ph.D. judges:
- Renée Jaworski, Pilobolus
- Emily Kent, Pilobolus
- Matt Kent, Pilobolus
- Carl Flink, Black Label Movement
- Katrien Kolenberg, KU Leuven
- Leonard Apeltsin, University of California, Berkeley
- Jodi Lomask, Capacitor
- Alexa Meade, Alexa Meade Art
- Weidong Yang, Kinetech Arts