On Sunday, Of Equal Place: Isotopes in Motion at the Wharton Center explores physics through dance, mimicking the movement of isotopes.
The dancers explored the research being conducted at the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, or FRIB, at MSU. With the goal of presenting science as an art form, the dancers wanted to combine hard math and science in a medium that most audiences could relate to.
FRIB uses a fragment separator to break up a beam of radioactive nuclei into a target to study the properties and reactions that can occur with the nuclei.
Members of the MSU scientific community approached Wharton Center Institute for Arts and Creativity Director Burt Goldstein to create an artwork that explains the facility and incorporates physics into a multimedia experience.
Goldstein contacted the local dance studio Happendance and Dance Exchange, both of which gave scientific presentations. The dance exchange, she said, involves the community.
“It’s not just about their six or seven dancers coming to play, packing up and leaving,” Goldstein said. “They wanted real community integration.”
They decided to perform a dance centered around science and hold two workshops at Wharton—one on dance and one on movement. Dancers range in age from 16 to 72, integrating women and minorities in the physical sciences at MSU into the ensemble to promote the changing face of STEM.
“They also created sections in the show about women in science,” Goldstein said. “There’s a whole section on Marie Curie and a whole series on other women’s science, because one of our goals was to impress young women, to encourage them to think about science.”
Goldstein said the choreographers spent a lot of time figuring out the movement that would characterize the atoms. As a result, they successfully reproduce the process of physics, isotopes and stable and unstable isotopes.
Director of Creative Engagement Ami Dowden-Fant has been dancing since she was a child. She started with Dance Exchange in 2009 when they started doing science presentations. MSU was the natural next step for them, she said.
“(Dance and physics) are actually very similar because it takes a lot of physics to make dance really happen,” Dowden-Fant said. “Looking at and using the inspiration of physicists, how they talk about them, how they show us their research, everything has movement in it.”
FRIB physicist Mallory Smith conducted the hands-on science workshop. She planned to explain FRIB in a simple way, with something a child could understand.
Smashing a beam into a target is a violent act that leads to intense dance moves. Smith said the highlights of the workshop were participants making something new and then seeing something destroyed.
Graduate student and FRIB employee Shane Waters saw the event as a way to reach out to the science enthusiast community. Inspiring the next generation, he said, is his main goal.
Audience member Jenny Rasmussen brought her daughter to experience the event. She said the event is delicious for those who don’t want to sit through college lectures.
“It’s a nice refresher on a lot of things I forgot from college, and it’s for (my daughter) to break things down,” Rasmussen said. “It’s refreshing, protons, nutrients, neutrons, what are isotopes and all that, because it’s been a really long time for me.”
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