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Arts and Sciences

Arts and SciencesWhenRanjani Saigal’s students take the stage in September, they’llbe part of a unique dance performance designed to teach sciencethrough art.

Boston [08.09.04] Nivedita Gunturi and 10 of her classmates have been studying DNA replication at Tufts all summer. But the end of their course won't be marked by a typical final exam. Instead, the teenage students will take the stage to perform an interpretive Indian dance as part of a unique program at Tufts that uses art to teach science.

"I think it's fascinating to do something scientific with dance," Gunturi - a pre-med college student--told The Boston Globe about the summer program at Tufts. "It kind of blurs the line between science and arts."

That's exactly what Tufts' Ranjai Saigal had in mind when she created the course.

"Having her students learn the secrets of the double helix molecule and how it replicated to store all humane genome data in every cell is one task," reported the Globe. "Conveying that through art and emotion rather than reason is another."

But with some funding help from Tufts' University College of Citizenship and Public Service, Saigal was up for the challenge.

"Saigal, who has been dancing since she was a girl and teaching for 11 years, has gone about her experiment with the austere determination of a scientist," reported the Globe. "Tufts University, where she is an engineer in the Academic Technology department, has given her $5,000 to start. She has independently raised another $10,000, which she has used to arrange an impressive program for September."

After months of work - which included a lot of research on DNA theory and ongoing dance rehearsals - the girls have created a Hindi myth to represent the scientific concepts they've learned. They will debut a portion of it next week at Boston's Hatch Shell. The full two hour version will take place at Tufts in early September.

"In Bharatanatyam style, the hand gestures talk about what we are doing," Saigal told the Globe. "And a sutra dhar, a narrator . . . kind of binds the story together. We are also going to have multimedia props with Power Point presentations, and [photos] of a double helix on side screens. I thought about it a lot."

So have the students, many of whom said they weren't particularly interested in science before the course began. Saigal expects the summer course may change that.

"Unlike most other dance routines they have been involved in, the students are choreographers to some extent in this production. They are supposed to absorb the meaning of DNA, the way they would have learned it in school," reported the newspaper. "Their initial efforts have tried to represent the replication of the DNA molecule.

Though the finished product will mark the end of Saigal's experimental course, the summer experiment could represent a new way to teach science.

"If it does work, it could become useful for Tufts' own research into alternative ways of teaching," Steven Cohen - a member of Tufts' Academic Technology Department - told the Globe. "We will use it to try to figure out whether a course like this can be developed, maybe there will be other ways to teach complex ideas."

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