Ph.D. Student Uses Dance To Demonstrate Bacterial Cell Division

Video Project Wins Science Magazine Contest

A still from Rika Khadria's video demonstrating the process of Forster Resonance Energy Transfer.

A doctoral student from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has won a national contest for creating a dance video mimicking cell division in bacteria.

When Science Magazine announced a Dance Your Ph.D. contest, Rika Khadria said a relative in India joked that Khadria should enter the competition. Khadria instead decided to make a serious effort at combining her passion for dance with that for her doctoral work in biochemistry.

“I’ve always believed in merging the arts and sciences together, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to explore my creativity in this area,” said Khadria.

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Working with nine or 10 fellow grad students and her faculty advisor, Alessandro Senes, Khadria designed costumes that use coils of duct tape. She also choreographed a seven-minute video. The dance explores the potential interaction of proteins essential to when bacteria cells divide and multiply during an infection.

Khadria said in a key moment, one dancer in blue and another in green pass by each other and light transfers.

“What this means is that if the protein is forming a pair, then the blue light is being transferred to the person with the green mask and we see green light instead,” she said. “This kind of phenomenon is known as Forster Resonance Energy Transfer, or FRET.”

Khadria said if scientists can better map the cell division process, they may be able to stop or slow down the spread of infections. Khadria hopes to show the video at some Madison high schools to help illustrate the scientific concept.

You can check out the video here.

Correction: The original version of this story quoted Ms. Khadria describing a phenomenon as a foster resonance energy transfer. The phenomenon is actually called a Forster Resonance Energy Transfer.

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