My collaboration with particle physicist Sarah Demers began when we co-designed a one-semester qualitative reasoning course that we first taught at Yale in the fall of 2011. Intended to revitalize the science curriculum for non-science majors, the course is called The Physics of Dance.

Since 2011, we have co-designed and delivered numerous public talks and workshops for audiences both within and outside of academia.  In 2012, we undertook a large-scale project called “Discovering the Higgs,” funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, and in 2013 we co-created a science-art video, “Three Views of the Higgs and Dance.” In the fall of 2013, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Carolina Arts invited us to present the workshop and a related lecture as part of their initiative to promote cross-disciplinary teaching and research among the arts, humanities, and sciences.

By invitation, we have co-designed and delivered additional presentations for such platforms as the Yale College Alumni Weekends in May 2013 & 2014, Yale’s Presidential Inauguration Weekend in October 2013, and the Physics Club hosted by the Yale Physics Department in March 2014. Also in March, we gave a talk for Yale’s TEDx 2014 conference titled “Potential Poetics.”

We co-convene an Interdisciplinary Arts and Science Working Group, sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center and the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities.

The materials below feature various outcomes of the collaboration.

 Three Views of the Higgs and Dance / December 2013

This science-art video highlights the verbal and physical analogies high-energy physicists use to imagine the Nobel Prize-winning discovery of the Higgs boson. Edited by Jenai Cutcher-West.


Three Views of the Higgs and Dance from JMC West on Vimeo.



Discovering the Higgs / November 2012 – June 2013

Funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven’s Reintegrate: enhancing collaboration in the arts and sciences.

Our Reintegrate project translates the details of the Higgs boson discovery into a series of precisely choreographed visual images. In translating potentially the greatest breakthrough in particle physics in the 21st century through the intersecting artistic mediums of photography and dance, we investigate the problem and benefits of communication across disciplines that weigh heavily toward the non-verbal articulation of ideas.

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By synthesizing aesthetic principles from our disciplines, we aim to expand the communicative potential of both, with the ultimate goal to develop a new language through which to communicate the Higgs discovery. We have historical examples of how concepts in music have framed progress in physics–from the Music of the Spheres of Pythagoras to string theory. Returning to the question of what dance can offer physics, we seek nothing less than new metaphors through which physics concepts may be imagined. With the vibrating strings of string theory in mind, we want to explore the possibility that choreographic imagery–the organization of bodies in space and time–may actually lend back to the science new ways of conceiving of the Higgs, and hence new frameworks through which to imagine scientific discovery.

We have shared our “Discovering the Higgs” workshop with physicists at CERN, local community participants through New Haven’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, and New Haven high school students as part of Yale’s S.C.H.O.L.A.R., a STEM outreach initiative. Aided by photographers Kike Calvo, Jessica Todd Harper (above), and Mike Marsland, we have a collection of images from each event that depicts participants’ diverse, embodied interactions with ideas drawn from subatomic physics and the Higgs boson.

Funded by the Arts Council of Greater New Haven and the Department of Economic and Community Development, Connecticut Office of the Arts.


Physics and Dance: a workbook of potential poetics (working title) / Winter 2012 – present

We are currently co-authoring an interdisciplinary book on physics and dance, forthcoming from Yale University Press. In drawing together our fields, the book contributes to the major shift in universities across the United States in the way academia envisions, researches, and teaches in the arts and humanities and sciences. Heeding student feedback, many science instructors seek to enliven old pedagogical models, in order to better communicate the wonder inherent in scientific pursuits, and the relevance of quantitative reasoning to students’ lives. The arts and humanities are at a similar turning point. No longer accepting the relegation to afterschool activity, the arts are seeking to draw forms of cognition commonly associated with artistic practice–instinct, imagination, and a distinct version of critical rigor–more deeply into the university’s research operations, putting the arts in dialogue across the social sciences, humanities, and sciences. Faced with rapidly decreasing numbers of majors and enrollments, the humanities as a whole acknowledge a nationwide crisis, and are searching for ways to enliven course content and pedagogy. This book leads the vanguard in thinking creatively and generatively about these issues, by envisioning what the disciplines can offer each other. We encourage students to think in the gaps between disciplines, and to critically examine modes of analysis otherwise taken for granted in introductory courses within these fields.

Manifesto for Physics and Dance / By Emily Coates and Sarah Demers

Physics and dance share equal creative, intellectual, rigorous research power.

We recognize that our disciplines are effective independently.

We explore the potential for complexity – “the potential poetics” – where our disciplines can overlap without reduction.

Potential poetics lies in the crafting of dialogues.

We work to discover the singular advancement and altered perception within this interdisciplinary space.