Czech student rapping about atmospheric processes wins Science magazine contest 

Photo: YouTube

A team of students from the University of Helsinki, led by Czech PhD researcher Jakub Kubečka, has won this year’s annual contest Dance Your PhD, organised by the prestigious US magazine Science. The winning video, called Molecular Clusters, features an original rap song and dance explaining how groups of molecules stick together to form clouds.

The trio of research students from the Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research at the University of Helsinki, including Jakub Kubečka, Ivo Neefjes and Vitus Besel, won both the physics category and the top prize.

They were selected by a jury composed of previous winners and world-renowned artists and scientists for presenting the best combination of science and art, beating 39 competitors and pocketing a cheque for $2000.

It was the Czech researcher, Jakub Kubečka, who got the idea to participate in the project and recruited another two of his colleagues to join him:

“I started to write my PhD thesis and I suddenly had a lot of free time. That’s how it happened. I think the three of us, Vitus, who is musically talented, Ivo, who has video editing and filming skills and me, who has experience in popularizing science, are the best combination for making such an awesome video!”

Molecular Clusters [Dance Your PhD 2020/2021 OVERALL WINNER]

It took them two months of preparation and rehearsals to finish the video, using drones and green screen effects to show cloud molecules spinning, colliding and sticking together.

The team had to overcome all sorts of obstacles throughout the process, from Covid-19 restrictions to the harsh Finnish weather:

“We had this great idea to film on the roof, wearing only shorts and short sleeves, so we really suffered in the Finnish weather.  And something would always happen in the course of the filming.

“There are a lot of atmospheric measuring stations on the university roof and there was some interference, so our drone kept flying towards the Baltic Sea and we were always trying to catch it. So that was definitely fun.”

Jakub Kubečka,  photo: archive of Jakub Kubečka

Jakub Kubečka says the main goal of their video was to show „non-scientific muggles that science can be fun, silly, and exciting.” So what exactly is the subject of their research?

“In general terms we are trying to explain how mist and clouds appear in the atmosphere. The atmosphere is full of molecules and some of them can collide and combine into groups of molecules, which we call molecular clusters.

“These can grow into particles, aerosols, and eventually into clouds and mist. The question is, which molecules in the atmosphere can form stable clusters, which can then grow further.

“In the beginning, in the initial process, it is molecules of sulphuric acid and ammonia which form stable cluster and grow further. So we study these molecules and these clusters.”

The Dance your Ph.D. contest, which is now in its 13th year, is organized annually by Science magazine, in the categories of biology, chemistry, physics, and social science. This year, it also introduced a special category, dedicated to Covid-19.