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3 Grad Students At University Of Helsinki Win 'Dance Your PH.D.' Contest

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's time to get your groove on, your scientific groove.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLECULAR CLUSTERS")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Rapping) Let me tell you something about secondary aerosols. They form right in the atmosphere from gaseous precursors.

DETROW: This is a music video by three graduate students at the University of Helsinki.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLECULAR CLUSTERS")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are looking for molecular clusters. I'm going to them find them faster, searching through configuration space.

DETROW: Their video explaining how clouds are formed when Science magazine's annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest this year. It is a real contest. Group beat out 39 other competitors to nab the top prize of $2,000.

JOHN BOHANNON: Dozens and dozens of scientists come out of the woodwork all around the world and write their own lyrics, doing their own dance moves. It's just next level.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I'm sure it is. That's scientist and journalist John Bohannon. He started the competition in 2008.

BOHANNON: We had 40 dances this year. And the way they're scored is on scientific merit, artistic merit. And then how well did they combine science and art?

MARTIN: One of Bohannon's favorites was a video that used belly dancers to explain the way plastic breaks down and pollutes water.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BOHANNON: She's really using the dance to explain the physical mechanisms. You can't always do that. And so I think she pulled that off really well.

DETROW: There was, of course, a new special category this year, COVID-19. The winner used ballet to become the virus's different proteins. She spins and moves erratically.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

HEATHER MASSON-FORSYTHE: All of your cells have double-stranded DNA.

BOHANNON: She's capturing not only a whole bunch of the science and explaining it, but she's also capturing what it's like to try and solve scientific mysteries in tiny, little droplets of liquid. That's just really cool.

DETROW: There's also the fame.

BOHANNON: I tell them that they have now achieved Internet geek fame. That's just never going to go away. And it becomes your calling card.

DETROW: And that is definitely something to dance about.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOLECULAR CLUSTERS")

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We are looking for molecular clusters. I'm going to find them faster, searching through... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.