It’s a science competition like no other. Acrobats, their faces painted forest green, artfully ascend hanging ropes, twirling away from tumbling pathogens. A food scientist dances around a conga line of human carbohydrates. Two quadcopters engage in a solemn tango.

Those crazy performances are the winners of the seventh annual Dance Your Ph.D. competition. The contest, sponsored by Science, The American Association for the Advancement of Science and HighWire Press, challenges graduate students to describe their scientific research through interpretive dance.

A joint panel of artists and scientists judge the video submissions, and award $500 to one winner in five different categories (one submission nabs the “online audience vote” prize, too). The overall winner not only achieves Internet fame via Vimeo, but also a small fortune (for a grad student, anyway)—$1000, plus a ticket to Stanford University for an official screening of his or her dance-infused shenanigans.

This year, the grand prize went to Uma Nagendra of the University of Georgia. Nagendra is investigating how tornadoes affect forest soil ecology.

She’s also an acrobat.

Plant-soil feedbacks after severe tornado damage from atinytornado on Vimeo.

Not all early-career scientists are graceful high-fliers. So this year’s winner in the chemistry category, Saioa Alvarez, took a more conventional music-video route. Alvarez is a food scientist at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, where she is trying to develop reduced-fat mayonnaise. Her submission is easily one of the catchiest—and gets serious points (from me, anyway) for featuring a “mayonnaise addict” in a sumo suit.

"Reduced-fat mayonnaise: Can´t maintain it´s stability" from Saio Nara on Vimeo.

And then there are the dancing drones. Venanzio Cichella of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign commanded the online audience vote by teaching two small robot copters to tango without colliding. Apparently, robotic dance is all a matter of collision avoidance, coordinated path following…and style.

Multiple Robots - Dancing Tango from Venanzio Cichella on Vimeo.

For more grooving grad students, check out these videos of Dance Your PhD’s 12 finalists. Expect giant molecular clouds, exploding carbon nanofibers and the epigenetics of a heart attack—all set to funky beats.