This Is Creativity at Its Finest

I remember reading a great book in college, “The Ultimate Athlete“; here’s a brief description of the book from Amazon:

We are born with the God-given right to move efficiently, gracefully, and joyfully. We lose this right only through society’s mind-body split, faulty modes of physical education, and overemphasis on “winning.” George Leonard’s simple and radical notion is that within each of us, regardless of age, sex, or physical condition, there exists an ultimate athlete waiting to be born. With a poet’s passion, fifth-degree aikido black belt Leonard evokes the transcendent moment in sport—the catch that defies gravity and chance, the play that makes time stand still—as emblematic of the Greater Game of embodiment itself, of life and death, a Game we all can play to depth and breadth of body and soul.

I remember being somewhat disappointed that Leonard claimed that dancers were the ultimate athletes because I considered myself the furthest thing from a dancer. However, I’ve come to appreciate that message more and more over the years, despite my own dancing not having progressed from what I learned when I was about 12.

And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better demonstration of this mind-body combination and the power of dance than when I watched the winning videos of the “Dance Your Ph.D.” project.

I’m sure your first thought was the same as mine – this sounds kind of goofy, but I was intrigued to see if someone really could pull off using dance to explain something as technical as “Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance” or as depressing as “Measuring consciousness after severe brain injury using brain stimulation”.

But thanks to the Ph.D. students’ creativity and the power of dance, they succeeded beyond my wildest imagination.

This is the 11th year of Dance Your Ph.D. hosted by Science and AAAS. The contest challenges scientists around the world to explain their research through the most jargon-free medium available: interpretive dance.

“Most people would not normally think of interpretive dance as a tool for scientific communication,” says artist Alexa Meade, one of the judges of the contest. “However, the body can express conceptual thoughts through movement in ways that words and data tables cannot. The results are both artfully poetic and scientifically profound.”

There were 12 finalists chosen from 50 submissions. Winners were selected in four broad categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science.

Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, spent six weeks choreographing and songwriting his entry into the contests. The time was well spent, as he won both the physics category and the overall prize.

Here is Yapa’s video on “Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance”.

I didn’t think I would watch the whole video (it’s 11 minutes long), but I did, since I felt I wanted to see how the story ended. I also felt I learned a little about the topic as well.

My favorite video was the one that looked at “Measuring consciousness after severe brain injury using brain stimulation”. This video won the Biology category and was voted the audience favorite:

Once again, it’s amazing to see how the power of creativity and dance can be used to deal with something as frightening as a severe brain injury. The video seemed like a good training tool to help caretakers understand how to measure consciousness, and had an uplifting message at the end. Quite well done.

I also looked at the winner of the Social Science Category: “Movements as a Door for Learning Physics Concepts – Integrating Embodied Pedagogy in Teaching”. It was quite impressive to see how Roni Zohar used dance to teach physics concepts such as balance, gravity, and Newton’s First and Third Laws. I was particularly impressed with the lesson on teaching angular velocity.

I have to admit I have not watched the winner of the Chemistry category: “Percolation Theory – Conducting Plastics”. I am sure the video is quite good; there’s just something about Chemistry I never quite got, and so I’ve got a blind spot here. I’ll put the video here in case anyone wants to watch it (Daryl!):

So congratulations to all the winners, and all the entrants. Your work is a testament to the power of the mind and body to work together to create something that is beautiful and educational.

When I think about my own Ph.D. research, “An Assessment of the Impact of Diagnosis-Related Group (DRG) Based Reimbursement on the Technical Efficiency of New Jersey Hospitals”, I think the perfect song to accompany it would be “Color My World“, the ultimate slow dance.

*image from Science Magazine