In Which I Discuss a Novel Form of Science Communication
by Sarah Gillig Sunu -- October 16th, 2012

I don’t commonly associate science with dance.

My personal history with dance is patchy. My sisters were the dancers (ballet, tap, jazz, modern, Highland fling, you name it), so I mostly wound up sitting backstage while they were in the Nutcracker every year. I preferred theater, and when I watched traditional dance in performances, I never felt like I knew what was going on (except for the Nutcracker). It always seemed to me like the only person who actually knew what was going on was the choreographer, and the rest of us just had to rely on the program notes.

When I was an undergrad at Wesleyan, there was a big push to bring together science and dance, which I thought was interesting but not that exciting—it still felt like the communication was coming from outside, and I still felt like I didn’t understand what was happening onstage. Dancers were interpreting the science, rather than scientists communicating through dance.

Because of this, I didn’t pay much attention to science and dance after graduation. But while messing around on the Science website, I came across this year’s finalists for the fifth Dance Your PhD competition, and now I’m excited about dancing science again.

I was so impressed with the talent and the production quality, and with the fact that the impetus to communicate through dance was coming from the scientists, rather than from outside dancers. Often the PhD students are performing it themselves (with what appear to be many other graduate student friends), and I felt like I actually could figure out what was going on from what I was seeing, rather than having to rely on the program notes.

I never thought I would say this, being into environmental science rather than hard-core phsyics, but now I kind of understand how ‘Cutting sequences on veech surfaces’ (by Diana Davis) work—and I don’t even know what a ‘veech surface’ is (Wikipedia is telling me it is something about translations and affine diffeomorphisms and now I still have no idea).

I highly recommend checking the finalists out, particularly:

Evolution of nanostructural architecture in 7000 series aluminium alloys by age-hardening and severe plastic deformation by Peter Liddicoat

Seed dispersal and regeneration in a Tanzanian rain forest by Carrie Seltzer

Odd-Z transactinide compound nucleus reactions including the discovery of bohrium-260 by Sarah Wilk

• Deuterium retention in tungsten by Rianne ‘t Hoen

• Cutting sequences on veech surfaces by Diana Davis

I wonder if explaining your thesis through dance makes it easier for your relatives to understand what you’re studying…. If anyone at Duke wants to enter the sixth annual Dance Your PhD competition next year and needs volunteers, let me know!

Though I don’t usually watch dance performances, I started swing dancing in Boston last year and it’s a great way to meet people, express yourself, and listen to awesome music. I was really surprised at how many of the people I met there were also in science careers, but now I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t have been.

To get you in the mood for the upcoming spooky holidays–here’s a video from Boston Swing Central (great place to dance in Boston) of  Thriller by Michael Jackson (which we learned in an hour and a half on the night of the dance–go us!).  I’m in the sparkly dress and the black-and-white-striped tights on the far left.  Not exactly the Nutcracker, but lots of fun!

Tides for Tuesday, October 16th, 2012, Beaufort, NC:

Low: 2:29 AM,  -0.12 ft

High: 8:55 AM, 4.37 ft

Low:  3:14 PM, 0.04 ft

High: 9:12 PM, 3.62 ft

from NOAA Tide Predictions

1 Comment

  1. Phil and Jane
    Oct 16, 2012

    We enjoyed reading your blog and watching you dance in your sparkly dress and striped sox. You sounded very intelligent in your blog – we’re proud of you and your awesome husband!

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