Merritt Moore

Physics is hard.  I should know, I was an applied physics major in college and got my butt kicked by quantum mechanics and thermodynamics.  And dancing is hard.  I should also know.  I took a ballroom dancing class for 6 months and salsa dancing for another 6 months, and my wife still says I dance like C-3PO.  And being an astronaut is hard.  OK, I don’t know about this one, but I think it’s a pretty safe bet I’m right.  So, how about doing all three?

Meet Merritt Moore.

She is a 29-year-old professional dancer, an accomplished ballerina who has performed with the English National Ballet Company, Zurich Ballet Company, London Contemporary Ballet Theatre, and the Boston Ballet Company.

She is also completing her PhD in Physics from Oxford University in England specializing in quantum optics, having studied physics at Harvard University as an undergraduate.

And if that wasn’t enough, she is a contestant in the BBC reality TV show “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?”  The Idea behind the show is that for 6 weeks, the 12 competitors of the show will compete in a series of physical and psychological tests to see if they’re astronaut material.  Chris Hadfield, former commander of the International Space Station, will sponsor the winner of the show to space agencies around the world.

How does she do it all?  She says that she’s actually tried retiring from dance 10 times.  She’s tried burning her pointe shoes, got rid of her leotards, but dance just pulls her back.  Sweating buckets dancing actually helps her have more energy and recharges her, giving her the euphoria and inspiration to tackler her other life, physics.  Her passion for dance is only matched by her intense curiosity about the world and space and how the universe works and drives her in the lab exploring the entangled states of photons.

She came to the dance world at the age of 13, which is usually considered a bit late in that field since many dancers actually start much earlier, like age 2 or 3.  She actually didn’t speak until age 3 and had used puzzles and math as ways of non-verbal expressions.  When she discovered dance, it made sense to her as another mode of non-verbal communication and the connection was formed.  Later as she discovered physics, she found the problem solving required in doing physics harkened back to her love of puzzles and math and thus her dual passions were born.

Originally from California, and learned her love for science stargazing with her father and sister under the Pacific skies.  Perhaps that’s where she got her inspiration to pursue trying to be an astronaut.  Even on a show with ridiculously overqualified participants (military pilot, surgeon, Everest-climbing dentist, etc), she stands out if for no other reason than that she has successfully combined two very disparate fields into a holistic whole.

Moore is, in fact, nearing completion of her thesis for her PhD in physics as well as a dance piece that involves robotics as well as a virtual reality project that fuses physics and dance.  She is proof that when it comes to creativity and hard work, all are connected.

UPDATE:  The BBC show “Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?” has concluded and Suzie Imber, 33, of the University of Leicester was the winner.  She is an assistant professor of planetary science at the university.  Merritt Moore may not have won the contest, but she still has shown the world how incredibly talented and dedicated she is and why she is a Hero of Awesomeness.