UWA student wins international ‘Dance your PhD’ competition

Joel Miller is Australia’s newest science communication superhero.

First 2011 brought us a Nobel prize in Physics. Now Australia can also boast the winner of the Science Magazine “Dance your PhD” award.

University of Western Australia PhD student Joel Miller has taken out the top prize in the contest, which invited doctoral students across the world to explain their PhDs through interpretive dance.

Entrants were asked to record their performances and upload them to the web.

Miller, who is one year into his PhD, defeated a field of 55 contenders – and all without a video camera. His entry is composed of 2200 animated still images.

“We didn’t have a video camera, instead I have a digital SLR. I got to thinking there were big opportunites to use stop-motion,” Miller said.

The video – which carries the catchy title, “Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story” – details Miller’s research into alternative titanium knee and hip replacement materials.

“Typically hip and knee replacements last for around 15 years before they need replacing. The main cause of that is that the bone deteriorates and the implants pull out,” he said.

“My research is into how to use new materials that are less stiff, and designs of implants that are more flexible.”

“Hopefully this will reduce the number of revision surgeries that are necessary, because revision surgery is very painful, and very inconvenient for the patient.”

While Miller’s victory in this light-hearted competition may seem incidental to serious academic pursuits, it has actually afforded him new opportunities to further his research.

He will be flown to Belgium next month to participate in media conference TedxBrussels, a trip that will enable him to connect with leaders in his field.

“I’ll also be attending a manufacturing conference in Frankfurt, and visiting one of the world leaders in titanium in Birmingham as well,” he said.

“Basically, winning the prize allows me to take some other opportunities I wouldn’t otherwise have had.”

And more than that, for Miller, the nature of the contest reveals some basic truths about science communication.

“This competition definitely gives exposure to complicated scientific concepts and amazing research around the world. I think it’s very valuable being able to communicate science to everybody.”

His video is below. Enjoy.

Microstructure-Property relationships in Ti2448 components produced by Selective Laser Melting: A Love Story from Joel Miller on Vimeo.