A trio of atmospheric scientists from the University of Helsinki has won the 2020–21 Dance Your PhD competition. The group rapped their way to the title with an entry describing their research on atmospheric molecular clusters.

‘To prepare for recording the lyrics, I was running with headphones playing the music at least 30 times per day for the whole month to get it into my blood. I think that I even dreamed about it,’ said the Finnish team’s leader Jakub Kubečka. ‘Throughout the whole process, we always stayed close to our main goal of showing non-scientific muggles that science can be fun, silly and exciting.’

The Dance Your PhD competition is organised by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and asks postgraduate students to explain their research through the medium of interpretive dance. As in previous years, the competition awarded the best entries in biology, chemistry, physics and social sciences. Each category winner receives $750 (£535), while Kubečka, who won the physics prize, scoops an extra $2000 as overall winner. Additionally, this year’s contest included a category for the best dance on Covid-19 research, with the winner receiving $500.

All entries had to comply with all local Covid-19 safety guidelines, adding a further challenge for this year’s participants. ‘As we got closer to the filming days, the Covid situation in Finland got worse. More and more restrictions were being put into place, and it seemed that we might not get to film it,’ said Kubečka. ‘But in the end, we got the permission to film under strict rules. We adapted the video so we never had to be with more than two people, an actor and camera man, in a room indoors.’

Mikael Minier, who carried out his PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, US, won the chemistry category with a street dance entry summarising his work using biomimetic ligands to reproduce and investigate the activity of the methane monooxygenase enzyme.

The Covid-19 prize was awarded to Heather Masson-Forsythe from Oregon State University, US, whose entry incorporating numerous dance styles described her research using NMR to study the structure of the Covid-19 nucleocapsid protein.

The biology prize went to Fanon Julienne from the University of Le Mans, France, who investigates the photodegradation of polymers to better understand the processes involved in the formation of microplastics in different environments.