He loves science, loves to dance. And, as the Dancing Mad Scientist, biochemistry senior Jeffrey Vinokur gets to do both at once.
Vinokur’s hip-hop laboratory extravaganza—for which “fiery,” “explosive” and “steamy” are literal descriptions—last fall got him to the top 100 out of 70,000 hopefuls for NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” an opportunity that took his act to Vegas. His dance instruction channel on YouTube has surpassed 10 million views, and this summer he’s embarking on a national tour of middle schools, high schools and science centers. Education is at the heart of Vinokur’s mission.
“Science is happening all around us. Understanding and appreciating it is something I hope to help people do with my show,” Vinokur says. He uses an Airzooka to shoot rings of fog through the audience, demonstrating air movement; adds various catalysts to make hydrogen peroxide burst into foam; and dances on a mixture of cornstarch and water that is liquid when touched slowly but hard when hit fast (see photo, right).
Vinokur has had some UW masters of science performance mentor him along the way: chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri and physics professor Clint Sprott, who featured Vinokur in a recent “Wonders of Physics” show.
But his own childhood experiences—which included all manner of home experiments encouraged by his Russian parents—led him to believe in hands-on science. One of his earliest memories is a visit to the Liberty Science Center in his home state, New Jersey. Kids were invited to participate in a frothy experiment with dry ice, soap and water.
“You got to wash your hands in the bubbles. I was blown away,” says Vinokur. “Everyone remembers the hands-on stuff. That’s a big part of science.” The Liberty Science Center will be one of Vinokur’s stops this summer.