Winning Science's annual 'Dance Your Ph.D.' contest, physicist depicts electrons swinging on superconducting wires


Dance video shows ‘unsociable’ particles becoming ‘joyful’ pairs

Scientific research can be a lonely pursuit. And for Pramodh Senarath Yapa, a physicist at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, even the subject of his research is lonely: singleton electrons wandering through superconducting material. “Superconductivity relies on lone electrons pairing up when cooled below a certain temperature,” Yapa says. “Once I began to think of electrons as unsociable people who suddenly become joyful once paired up, imagining them as dancers was a no-brainer!”

Six weeks of choreography and songwriting later, Yapa scooped the 2018 “Dance Your Ph.D.” contest. The judges–a panel of world-renowned artists and scientists–chose Yapa’s swinging electron dance from 50 submissions based on both artistic and scientific merits. He takes home $1000 and immortal geek fame.

“I remember hearing about Dance Your Ph.D. many years ago and being amazed at all the entries,” Yapa says. “This is definitely a longtime dream come true.” His research, meanwhile, has evolved from superconductivity–which he pursued at the University of Victoria in Canada, where he completed a master’s degree–to the physics of superfluids, the focus of his Ph.D. research at the University of Alberta.

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. John Bohannon, inventor of the contest, is a former contributing correspondent for Science and still runs the contest on its behalf. He is now director of science at Primer, an artificial intelligence company.

The 12 finalists were announced on 4 February in each of the four broad categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science. Yapa won both the physics category and the overall prize. An online audience favorite will be determined by 14 February, and some of the winning videos will be shown on 17 February at the annual AAAS meeting in Washington, D.C.

These are the four winners selected by the judging panel:

Overall winner and Physics category

Pramodh Senarath Yapa

Non-Local Electrodynamics of Superconducting Wires: Implications for Flux Noise and Inductance

University of Victoria, Canada

current affiliation: University of Alberta, Canada

contact: [email protected]

Winner, Biology category

Olivia Gosseries

Measuring consciousness after severe brain injury using brain stimulation

University of Liege, Belgium

contact: [email protected]

Winner, Chemistry category

Shari Finner

Percolation Theory – Conducting Plastics

Eindhoven University of Technology, Netherlands

current affiliation: Technical University of Dortmund, Germany

contact: [email protected]

Winner, Social Science category

Roni Zohar

Movements as a Door for Learning Physics Concepts – Integrating Embodied Pedagogy in Teaching

Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel

contact: [email protected]


The 2018 Dance Your Ph.D. judges:

Renee Jaworski, Pilobolus

Emily Kent, Pilobolus

Matt Kent, Pilobolus

Carl Flink, Black Label Movement

Alexa Meade, Alexa Meade Art

Suzanne Walsh, STEAM education

Weidong Yang, Kinetech Arts

Allan Adams, WHOI Future Ocean Lab

Rebecca Saxe, MIT SaxeLab

The Semantic Scholar team at the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science, as well as Science Translational Medicine; Science Signaling; a digital, open-access journal, Science Advances; Science Immunology; and Science Robotics. Founded in 1848, the nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more.

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