Bringing You the Daily Dispatch

A researcher from ANU wins an international award for his energetic presentation on kangaroos, known as "Joyful madness", performed as part of his PhD.
Culture Environment Science

A researcher from ANU wins an international award for his energetic presentation on kangaroos, known as “Joyful madness”, performed as part of his PhD.

Dr. Weliton Menário Costa, previously a scientist in Canberra, now known as Weli, expressed his excitement in winning the global “Dance Your PhD” contest with his unique interpretation of kangaroo behavior, comparing it to winning Eurovision.

His four-minute video titled Kangaroo Time features drag queens, twerking, ballerinas, a classical Indian dancer, and a bunch of friends Weli acquired from his time studying at the Australian National University.

The video won the highest award presented each year by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Science magazine, and Primer.ai, an artificial intelligence company based in San Francisco.

The contest aims to inspire scientists to communicate intricate research to a broader audience using dance, music, and comedy, and receives numerous submissions from all over the globe annually.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” Weli shared with the Guardian in an interview on Tuesday. “Winning an international science competition is like Eurovision, but with PhDs.”

“It can be quite a difficult task to effectively communicate findings from research and establish a cohesive connection between science and the performing arts. However, in Eurovision, the possibilities are endless.”

The University of Maine’s entry, created by a PhD candidate studying ecology and environmental science, was narrowly defeated by Kangaroo Time. The entry utilized the music of Camille Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre to present research on the invasive browntail moth.

  • Register for Guardian Australia’s complimentary daily email newsletters, delivered in the morning and afternoon, to stay updated with the latest news.

Weli was awarded over A$4,000 (equivalent to US$2,750) for winning both the overall and social sciences prizes. This marked the fourth victory for an Australian participant in the competition’s 17-year run.

In 2009, a dance performance by a University of Sydney group won an award for showcasing the benefits of vitamin D in preventing diabetes. Two years later, a video by a University of Western Australia team won for its exploration of the causes of failure in orthopaedic implants. In the following year, a project from the University of Sydney won again for its explanation of the evolution of nanostructural design in 7000 series aluminium alloys through the processes of age-hardening and severe plastic deformation.

Dr Weliton Menário Costa’s video was described as ‘joyful madness’ by Science magazineView image in fullscreen

Weli entered his submission based on his four-year research on animal behavior during his PhD studies. The video, described by Science magazine as “joyful madness,” caught the attention of the judges – a group of scientists, artists, and dancers. They commended Kangaroo Time for its ability to inspire feelings of surprise and delight, while providing easily understandable information on the science behind marsupial group dynamics.

The ANU graduate utilized a remote-controlled car to observe the distinct behaviors and intricate personas of over 300 untamed eastern grey kangaroos in Victoria.

Exclude the newsletter promotion.

The researcher discovered that similar to humans, kangaroos’ personalities develop during their early stages of life. He also observed that their personalities often resemble those of their parents and siblings. Furthermore, he found that kangaroos take cues from their social group and form social circles, just like humans.

His final statement is that diversity is a result of differences within a species and is a natural occurrence.

The biologist who was born in Brazil and received a scholarship from ANU in 2017 mentioned that he utilized his South American background and interest in Australia’s distinct wildlife to create, produce, and star in the project.

Weli, a queer immigrant from a developing country, expressed that he understood the kangaroos’ adaptation of their behavior to fit in with the larger group.

“I come from a very humble family, a small town where most of the people are not educated,” he said, of his conservative upbringing. “When I came to Australia I came out to my family … in Kangaroo Time I celebrate diversity in my beautiful Canberra community that [mirrors] kangaroo behaviour.”

After obtaining his doctorate degree in Canberra in 2021, Weli has left his academic career in science and relocated to Sydney, where he aims to establish himself as a singer-songwriter.

The debut EP, entitled “Yours Academically, Dr Weli”, will be released on March 1st.

Source: theguardian.com