A young Indian researcher in the US has transported her experimental work in the laboratory to an artistic dance and won the international ‘Dance Your PhD’ contest in Chemistry category for the year.
Ambalika Khadria, a biochemistry PhD student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, demonstrated her experiment on whether proteins are linked together in pairs.
Khadria, who is from Delhi, managed this with a dance display jazzed up by coloured masks, dancers and fluorescent lights. The results of the contest were announced last week.
The ‘Dance Your PhD’ competition is a unique contest sponsored by Science magazine. Students across the world use interpretative dance to explain their PhD research topics.
Participants are required to upload a video of their dance accompanied with a written explanation for the viewer.
“My research is towards the larger goal of being able to control bacterial growth in these times of ever-evolving multidrug resistant bacteria. My dance illustrates an experimental protocol that has been developed in the laboratory,” Khadaria said.
“The dancers represent peptide molecules being synthesised, purified and labelled with fluorescent dyes,” Khadaria, who did her schooling from DPS, Vasant Kunj, added.
For her presentation, a student started a peptide synthesis reaction in a test-tube. The focus then moved on to dancers depicting protein molecules. They wore helix costumes made of duct tape to represent the shape of these proteins. “The rest of the dance takes you through each of the steps I carry out in my lab,” said Khadria.
There is an interesting backstory to how she got into the competition. “My to be mother-in-law sent me a news article that was published in an Indian newspaper. Since I did not have much time, I made a rough sketch and then planned the moves.”
The contest gave Khadria a chance to blend a scientific contest with creative art. “A science theme was something I had thought of in college, where I wanted to show the periodic table and bonds and reactions between the different elements through dance. This competition gave me a unique platform to choreograph my own PhD dissertation. It has been a truly amazing experience.”
There were two entries from India for the contest and both were really good, she said. “One on how bacteria evolve and the other, a very innovative idea of using ghunghroos to cure toe walking.”