Invited Speaker Australian Society for Microbiology Annual Scientific Meeting 2018

Act like a scientist! Using physical performance in undergraduate science teaching (#89)

Terry Mulhern 1 , Rinske Ginsberg 2
  1. University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC, Australia
  2. Victorian College of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Artistic creativity and scientific thinking are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, many scientists are highly creative and express this in their work and their personal lives. However, while the intersections between science and music or the visual arts are reasonably well explored, it seems that theatrical performance is the road less travelled.


It is clear from studies in primary and secondary education that well-considered and reflective use of theatrical performance can enhance and empower student learning in science (Ødegaard, 2003). So, why don’t we do this in higher education?


In 2017 we developed a teacher-centred physical performance which reconceptualised the structure, function and dynamics of the 20 naturally occurring amino acids. This interactive molecular ’yoga’ session was presented live in class to over a thousand 2nd year Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Biomedicine students. In 2018 we have flipped this idea and have initiated a trial of a student-centred activity we call The Performing Sciences. In The Performing Sciences students volunteer to script and present a short performance illustrating a concept from the curriculum with the surface goal of helping their classmates understand the concept better.


In addition to any impact on the audience, we have designed the activity so that participants should gain a deeper and more complete understanding of the topic they perform; discover new skills in verbal and nonverbal communication; develop the ability to deliver constructive criticism; and build confidence in public speaking and science communication.

  1. Marianne Ødegaard (2003) Dramatic Science. A Critical Review of Drama in Science Education, Studies in Science Education, 39:1, 75-101.