The 2009 meetings of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will have an unusually creative side-act: scientists hitting the floor to dance. The aim is to express their research symbolically and the dance program is intended to "shatter a few stereotypes about stuffy, lab-bound researchers."
Four research groups, winners of the "Dance Your Ph.D" contest, worked with a professional choreographer to develop their published research into the hottest new dance that will debut at the AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago in February 2009.
Check out this video featuring Sue Lynn Lau of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia in her dance interpretation of "The role of vitamin D in beta cell function."
Vitamin D in beta cells is important to help the pancreatic cells produce insulin in response to glucose stimulation, and I think I can see where this fits in with the dance (the sunglasses helped.)
But the real joy of this idea is that it's a novel example of presenting complex scientific ideas between "stuffy, lab-bound researchers" and the general public. And that's traditionally been one of science's most difficult challenges.
The most obvious example recently has been the various public actions concerning the Large Hadron Collider. Experiments in the LHC will give scientists amazing new chances to understand how our universe works on the large scale and subatomically, but it will collide particles at energies never before attempted. The worries that this will cause the formation of unexpected "side-effect" particles and even microscopic but Earth-devouring black-holes have led to law suits to try to halt the device, passionate (if illogically expressed) public campaigns, and even to a schoolgirl's suicide. The science behind the experiments at the LHC is indeed very complex, which goes some way to explaining why the public may be wary of science.
Other scientific research remains misunderstood, and has the double problem of crossing tricky moral ground that involves lawmakers at the highest level. The incoming Obama administration will have to take a stance on items like stem cell research and human cloning. And though it's less controversial and often sounds "grand" in a philosophical sense, it's often ill-understood why space science deserves funding: NASA and other bodies will have to convince the new President and the public why space science is important.
That's why I love the AAAS dance idea, and other campaigns to explain science like the art-based "Science of the Five Senses" lectures at the New York Academy of Sciences, and the "Picturing to Learn" program at the National Science Foundation, where college students try to explain science to high-school students through drawings. I'm not sure a simple dance would do the job of explaining why the LHC is important, and why it's totally safe, or why stem cell research is vital to understanding and curing many human diseases, but you never know—it might be worth a try. And attempting to explain science to the general public in new ways can only be good for both sides of the public/science debate.