USA Science and Engineering Festival: The Blog

~~By Aimee Stern

Connecting with the general public and hopefully future scientists and engineers is one the major goals of the USA Science & Engineering Festival. We want to light a spark, to convince students that these fields are not only those of the future but just plain fun.
Forty stage shows on three enormous stages will feature science comedians, dancers, musicians, magicians and even rappers. What does a science rapper sound like? Come and listen.

Science and engineering are still really complicated fields and what graduate students and scientists do to reach the top of their profession isn’t usually accessible to the rest of us. Here’s one way they’ve figured out how to show us what they research and learn in hilarious performances.

The Dance Your PhD contest started by John Bohannon, the Gonzo Scientist (, with AAAS, challenges graduate students and their professors to dance their PhDs.

As a marketer I love this idea – and so did the media. The first year, Dance Your PhD was on the network news, featured in the New York Times, on NPR and although it hasn’t happened yet – with a bit more pushing will probably end up viral. Call it what you want – Revenge of the Geeks, Geeks Gone Wild – it’s just plain smart marketing.

Here are a couple of media coverage links:

This type of effort to connect science with the rest of us in an art form we all can all appreciate is what informal science education is all about. From the thesis titles alone you could fall asleep – but the performances are inspirational. Here are few that really capture the spirit of the competition:

“Refitting repasts: a spatial exploration of food processing, cooking, sharing and disposal” at the Dunefield Midden campsite, South Africa” (University of Oxford). A caveman like figure chases a deer across the stage in an interpretation of hunting and gathering. It’s set to the music of Herbie Hancock and created by Brian Stewart.

The role of Vitamin D in beta-cell function, from graduate student, Sue Lynn Lau. An interpretive dance that takes you from Vitamin D production by the sun all the way through how it helps our bodies.

“The role of folate in epigenetic regulation of colon carcinogenesis.” PhD thesis of Lara Park at Tufts University, this one is performed by the Sarabande Repertory Dance Ensemble dance troupe and reminiscent of modern dance gone a bit wild.

“Transcription Factors Involved in Development and Growth Control: Regulation of Human g-globin and Fos Gene Expression.” (University of Zurich) done by Prof. Giulio Superti-Furga. I’m not sure I understand this one but it’s performed by a professor and two graduate students and is very funny.

For more information on this year’s Dance Your PhD contest go to and here’s some examples of the 2009 competition.


  1. #1 Richard D
    August 17, 2010

    Haha brilliant! Although apart from the Vitamin D and Archaeology routines, they were a little on the, er abstract side for me to interpret properly!

    Perhaps these could replace the traditional viva?

  2. #2 air max 2009
    September 8, 2010

    Nos últimos anos, em que não só já conseguia alcançar o topo do balcão do Sr.Adolfinho, como já mal passava na porta da entrada, foi também muito bom reparar que para uma série de pessoas da aldeia, a mercearia acabava por ser um local de convívio, para onde alguns vinham discutir os mais variados temas e contar as novidades, acabando por eliminar a possível solidão dos dias de alguns.

    É como vos digo, para quem conhece e se reconhece nas minhas curtas palavras, certamente saberá e poderá acrescentar muito mais acerca deste ilustre cidadão de Medrões, para além do que já aqui disse. Aliás, cada um de nós terá certamente memórias diferentes e histórias distintas que só enriquecem a homenagem que aqui quero deixar ao Sr. Adolfinho, que no que me toca a mim e à minha familia, será sempre recordado com carinho.

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