The newest overall winner of Science's annual Dance your Ph.D. contest, now sponsored by the artificial intelligence company Primer, is a Finnish researcher studying atmospheric molecular clusters. With the help of several friends, Jakub Kubecka brought his studies to life with trash-talking rap lyrics ("I'm the first author, you're just et al.") endearingly crude dance moves, computer animation and drone video footage. "To prepare for recording the lyrics, I was running with headphones playing the music at least 30 times per day for the whole month to get it into my blood. I think that I even dreamed about it." Kubecka recalls. "Throughout the whole process, we always stayed close to our main goal of showing non-scientific muggles that science can be fun, silly and exciting." (Additional remarks from the winner can be found below.)
Beyond conveying research via dance, Kubecka and the other contestants had to negotiate the pandemic, finding ways to produce their videos while honoring local COVID-19 restrictions. In spite of those challenges, 40 dances were submitted this year, involving hundreds of scientists and friends and family.
As usual, this year's contest covered four broad categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science. But there was an additional prize offered for the best dance on COVID-19 research; those dances did not have to be the subject of the applicant's own Ph.D. research.
Heather Masson-Forsythe won the COVID-19 category, depicting molecules of the pandemic coronavirus using multiple kinds of dance. The video has a poignant endnote pointing out that its length reflects the number of Americans who had died of COVID-19 at the time of its creation (1 second representing 1000 deaths).
Each category winner gets $750 and Kuecka pockets an extra $2000. The best COVID-19 dance has a $500 award. The judging was arranged by John Bohannon, a former contributing correspondent for Science who founded and still runs the contest on the magazine's behalf. He is now director of science at Primer. This is the 13th straight year of the contest.
Winner of the Physics prize, overall winner of the contest
PhD student, University of Helsinki / Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research
Formation, structure, and stability of atmospheric molecular clusters
Ph.D. dance: https://youtu.be/Kdrh82RVl3M
Winner of the Biology prize
Postdoctoral researcher for Ariane Group in ENSAM (Paris - France), University of Le Mans (France)
Fragmentation of plastics: effect of the environment and the nature of the polymer on the size and the shape of generated fragments
Ph.D. dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWT934bZXow
Winner of the Chemistry prize
PhD completed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; currently a software engineer at WaveXR (Los Angeles)
Biomimetic Carboxylate-Bridged Diiron Complexes: From Solution Behavior to Modeling the Secondary Coordination Sphere
Ph.D. dance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B7wjTrMaEY
Winner of the Social Sciences prize
Postdoc, University of Graz (Austria)
Playflul (De)Scribers. Examination of performative methods for the promotion of descriptive skills of children in linguistically diverse elementary school classes using the example of image description.
Ph.D. dance: https://youtu.be/OSX8ECBbyWg
Winner of COVID-19 research prize
Ph.D. student, Oregon State University
Biochemical & Biophysical Studies of the COVID-19 Nucleocapsid Protein with RNA
Ph.D. dance: https://youtu.be/CmhdQxaXd6k
Judges of this year's contest:
Daiane Lopes da Silva
The Semantic Scholar team at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence
Judges are available for comment upon request through firstname.lastname@example.org
A description from this year's winner, Jacub Kubecka, of his journey to creating a dance version of his Ph.D. research:
For the music Vitus just showed Ivo and me a demo which basically already contained the chorus as is. Together, we started to collect ideas for the lyrics. And here came the first problem; Vitus wanted Ivo and me to sing part of the music ourselves. I never did that, which I think you can also hear in the video. To prepare for recording the lyrics, I was running with headphones playing the music at least 30 times per day for the whole month to get it into my blood. I think that I even dreamed about it. Finally, with Vitus's expertise, we were able to record our lyrics, and even without having to resort to auto-tune.
As we got closer to the filming days, the COVID situation in Finland got worse. More and more restrictions were being put into place, and it seemed that we might not get to film it. But in the end, we got the permission to film under strict rules. We adapted the video so we never had to be with more than two people, an actor and camera man, in a room indoors. A large part of the film also took place outside. In our infinite wisdom, we had decided that we would only wear short sleeve shirts throughout the video, which the Finnish winter weather made us suffer for. Each outdoor shot started with us throwing away our jackets just off screen, performing the choreography, and then running to get our jackets again. We also had problems with the radars of the Finnish meteorological institute messing with our drone signal. So, sometimes it would just fly away to the Baltic Sea. Still, we somehow managed to put it all together. We also really relied on the help of our friends, like Faustine, Angelica and Stephany.
So, that's basically the story. Throughout the whole process, we always stayed close to our main goal of showing non-scientific muggles that science can be fun, silly, and exciting. And of course, we also didn't want to miss our opportunity of spitting some scientific roasts."