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Canadian wins in Dance Your PhD contest

Queen's University biologist Emma Ware is one of four winners of Dance Your PhD, a unique and lighthearted annual contest that asks researchers to convert their doctoral thesis into a dance video.

A Canadian scientist has won an international award for her PhD thesis — as expressed in modern dance.

Queen's University biologist Emma Ware is one of four winners of Dance Your PhD, a unique and lighthearted annual contest that asks researchers to convert their doctoral thesis into a dance video.   

"I wasn't expecting that, but it is exciting," Ware said upon hearing the results Thursday.   

Her thesis, entitled A Study of Social Interactivity Using Pigeon Courtship, yielded a moody, black-and-white video that shows how responses from female pigeons affect mating displays from the males. It won in the social science category.

The judges, who included both professional dancers and scientists, praised it for mirroring with the dancers the experimental processes that Ware used on her pigeons.   

"I've always been very interested and passionate about dance as well as science," said Ware, who helped start a dance club at her university. "For me, it was kind of like two worlds colliding and this was a great opportunity."   

Not that science and art are necessarily opposed, she added.   

"A lot of the great scientists are creative — they find great questions and great methods and great research through being creative."   

The idea behind the contest is to give young scientists a fun break from the pressure of fulfilling the requirements of their doctorate, said founder John Bohannon, a science journalist and sometime Harvard researcher.   

But he said it also gets the researchers thinking about what it takes to get their work across to the public.    

Ware agreed. "It made it much easier to communicate my work," she said.

Ware was one of two Canadian finalists for this year's award. It's also the second year a Canadian has been among the winners.   

The grand prize went to Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story by Joel Miller, a biomedical engineer at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia.

Other category winners:

  • Chemistry: FoSheng Hsu, a chemist at Cornell University.
  • Biology: Cedric Tan, a biologist at the University of Oxford.

"Canada's so solid," said Bohannon. "Something about your sense of humour just works for this contest."   

Despite her win, however, Ware won't be continuing her research in this field.   

"Right now, I'm trying to get into medical school," she said.