Neuroscientist’s fishy video nets Science’s annual ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ prize

Along with 3 other category winners, judges gave top honor to dance video depicting zebrafish larvae raised in isolation or groups as overall champion


Credit: Antonia Groneberg

Neuroscientist Antoine Groneberg’s innovative depiction of zebrafish brain development has won Science’s latest annual ‘Dance Your Ph.D.’ prize. A dancer since she was young, Groneberg taught students jazz and modern dance as a side job while pursuing a doctorate in neuroscience at Champalimaud Research in Lisbon, Portugal. When she heard about Science’s unusual contest, it seemed a natural fit. “Science and dance have always been my passions,” says Groneberg, who is now a postdoc at the university hospsital Charitie Berlin.

Her thesis explored how the motions of groups of zebrafish larvae affected each individual animal’s brain development and behavior, teasing out the impact by raising some larvae in isolation and documenting any differences. Planned over a long period but largely shot in one weekend, the video incorporates colleagues, some of her dance students and children of the adult participants and others on the Lisbon campus.

This is the 12th 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. The contest judges–a panel of world-renowned artists and scientists–chose Groneberg’s dance from 30 submissions based on both artistic and scientific merits. She takes home $1000 and a distinction shared by 11 past overall winners.

“Antonia Groneberg’s choreography, inspired by zebrafish larvae, merged dance and science for an aesthetically stunning and intellectually profound masterwork of art,” says judge Alexa Meade, an artist who uses mathematics and illusion in her work. (Meade can be reached further comments at [email protected])

The contest covered four broad categories: biology, chemistry, physics, and social science. (Groneberg won both the Social Science category and the overall prize.) “This year’s Dance Your PhD featured some of the best combinations of science and interpretive dance I have seen! The competition made complicated subject-matters accessible while maintaining the integrity of the material,” says Meade. “Most of all, while reviewing the submissions I was really struck by the coordinated efforts the scientists put into flowing seamlessly as a team. They all seemed to be having fun with their work and I couldn’t help but take delight in their smiles.
The judges said the Physics category winner, a Finnish video about multispectral scanning of forests by Samuli Junttila, also deserved special recognition for its original rap and professional production. They called it “hilarious and yet scientifically informative,” citing its chorus, “Scan the trees! Scan the trees!”

Some of the winning videos will be shown on 16 February at the annual AAAS meeting in Seattle, Washington. 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.

These are the four winners selected by the judging panel:

Overall winner and Social Science category winner

Antonia Groneberg

Early life social experiences shape social avoidance kinematics in larval zebrafish

Champalimaud Research (Portugal)

Current affiliation: Charité Berlin (Germany)

Contact: [email protected]

Biology category winner

Katharina Hanika

Impairing disease susceptibility genes to obtain resistance to Verticillium wilt in tomato

Current affiliation: Wageningen University & Research (The Netherlands)

Contact: [email protected]

Chemistry category winner

Jackie Zorz

An integrated approach to improving efficiency in microbial bioenergy systems

Current affiliation: University of Calgary (Canada)

Contact: [email protected]

Physics category winner

Samuli Junttila

Utilizing multispectral lidar in the detection of declined trees

Current affiliation: University of Helsinki

Contact: [email protected]

The 2019 Dance Your Ph.D. judges:

Renee Jaworski, Pilobolus

Emily Kent, Pilobolus

Matt Kent, Pilobolus

Katrien Kolenberg, KU Leuven

Leonard Apeltsin, UC Berkeley

Jodi Lomask, Capacitor

Alexa Meade, Alexa Meade Art

Weidong Yang, Kinetech Arts


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.

Noreen–the winner had one tweak. She suggested in opening graph changing the dance style she taught to “…”.

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