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Professor Jill Bargonetti Choreographs New Moves in Teaching and Cancer Research

Hunter’s Jill Bargonetti, professor of biology and a leading cancer researcher, believes that traditional educational methods do not sufficiently communicate the complexity of cellular interactions—especially in cancer. As an undergraduate, Bargonetti majored in both dance and biology, and today at Hunter, her courses take an unconventional approach: She uses dance, choreography, and improvisation to impress upon students the pattern-driven pathways and spontaneous movements that characterize cellular behavior.

“Molecular biology [is] nothing like the textbook,” she explains. “There’s no language inside the cell . . . only movement and energy and charge.”
In the Bargonetti Lab at Hunter, she and her team focus primarily on breast cancer research, exploring new ways of inhibiting tumor growth. Her work has received substantial support from the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the American Cancer Society, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense and the National Institutes of Health. In 1997, only three years after arriving at Hunter, she received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, and since then, she has received widespread recognition for her research.

Her teaching is also widely lauded. In a 2016 TedX Talk, she showcased her methods by having students from her Choreographing Genomics course perform excerpts of the work they’d developed in class.

Professor Bargonetti was recently featured in a video created by the Macaulay Honors College’s Science Forward program, an innovative undergraduate science seminar designed to help students see science as a lens on the world—a way of approaching questions and challenges. This video, part of an ongoing series of free videos available for public use, introduces students to cancer biology by highlighting Professor Bargonetti’s lab techniques, research projects and pioneering teaching methods.

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