Dancing Her Way to Ph.D. : Indian-Origin Scientist on Tornadoes Wins Challenge in US

Uma Nagendra, an Indian scientist who danced to explain her research topic on tornadoes, has won the top prize in the 2014 ‘Dance Your PhD’ contest. She is a Ph.D. scholar at the University of Georgia, Athens in the United States.

The ‘Dance Your PhD’ contest gave the challenge to the PH.D scholars to explain their dissertations using creative movement like dance.

ObservationsUma said her Ph.D. focuses on how several different species of tree seedlings in the southern Appalachian mountains interact with soil organisms and how tornadoes might mix things up.

“I use a combination of greenhouse and field experiments to investigate how tornadoes can change not only what plants grow in an area, but also how they interact with each other — through the soil,” she told IANS.

The Ph.D. scholar said that she started taking dance trapeze classes at Canopy Studio in Athens two years ago. “I like that it helps me use a different part of my brain after a long day of looking at data.”

“It’s a different way of challenging yourself, both creatively and physically. One of my first trapeze instructors is a researcher in the genetics department, and several former graduate students in my program did trapeze and silks at Canopy for many years,” Nagendra added.

Entries for the contest are divided into four main categories: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Social Science. The winner from each of these categories receives only $500.

The overall winner receives another $500 and a trip to Stanford University in California for a screening of the dance at a publishing conference sponsored by High Wire Press.

See Video.

Uma has made use of acrobats, their faces painted forest green with ascend hanging ropes, twirling away from tumbling pathogens.

The contest, sponsored by Science, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and HighWire Press, challenges graduate students to describe their scientific research through interpretive dance. The awards are given in five different categories (one submission nabs the “online audience vote” prize, too).

The overall winner gets $1,000 only but Vimeo assures Internet fame and a ticket to Stanford University for an official screening of his or her dance-infused display.

The chemistry category winner, Saioa Alvarez, took a conventional music-video route being a food scientist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, where she is trying to develop reduced-fat mayonnaise. Her submission has received one of the catchiest—and serious points for featuring a “mayonnaise addict” in a sumo suit.

See her video “Reduced-fat mayonnaise: Can´t maintain it´s stability” here.

Venanzio Cichella of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign received the online audience vote by teaching two small robot copters to tango without colliding, showcasing how a robotic dance on collision avoidance, coordinated path following helps. See his video “Multiple Robots – Dancing Tango” here:

In all there were 12 finalists showcasing giant molecular clouds, exploding carbon nanofibers and the epigenetics of a heart attack—all set to funky beats.

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