Applying science to a good night out
JON WELCH Get your lab coat, you’ve pulled! Dr Graeme Jones reckons a basic understanding of science can help us enjoy a night out on the town – and might even improve our chances of finding a mate. JON WELCH found out more.
Many of us look forward to an evening out, but all too often a night on the tiles can turn into a disappointing washout. Riotous night or damp squib - surely it's all down to chance, isn't it?
Not so, according to Dr Graeme Jones, who says we can increase our chances of having a good time by applying a few scientific principles.
He'll be outlining his theories at a lecture entitled Friday Night Science at Norwich Playhouse as part of the BA (British Association for the Advancement of Science) Festival of Science next month.
“Nothing's guaranteed, but it's a bit of a laugh,” he says.
Dr Jones isn't your stereotypical scientist, shut away in a laboratory with his test-tubes and his Bunsen burner.
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You're just as likely to find him in a pub or a club - conducting his research, of course.
Dr Jones, a senior lecturer in chemistry at Keele University, is a man on a mission to help make science fun and accessible.
Last year he was awarded £40,000 from Nesta, the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts, to study and train in the performing arts to help him find new ways of getting the importance and excitement of science over to the public.
“I'm tired of telling people what I'm interested in,” says Dr Jones.
“I thought, 'Wouldn't it be good if I asked people what they were interested in and looked at the science that will achieve that?'
“I spent a few nights in a pub, asking people what they were interested in and looked at whether I could find any of my science that would fit into that and help achieve the goal of helping people have a good time.
“A lot of the standard science that they may have learned at school might have some relevance when they're out on a Friday night.”
But how exactly? Dr Jones doesn't want to give too much away - he'd rather people came along and heard for themselves - but at previous lectures he's had the audience literally dancing in their seats, sniffing various scents and waving light sticks.
He examines the various decisions in planning a night out. “We look at choosing somewhere to go.
“Then you need to choose something to do while you are there. You're probably going to have a drink, so what should you drink, and what's in that drink? We look at the chemistry of an alcopop, for instance.
“What's the aim of your night out? It will probably be to meet somebody. Is there any way science can help you to meet somebody of the opposite sex?”
Yes, let's not be coy about this: Dr Jones reckons science can help us to pull. Sexual chemistry, it seems, is aptly named.
“We need to think of it in terms of a reaction happening,” he explains.
“There are lots of ways of getting things to react together. You can consider people as two molecules together in a flask in the lab.”
Choice of venue can therefore be crucial. “If you are going to get chemicals to react together, you often have to put a lot of them together, and it's the same with people,” he says. “You have to be in a place where there are lots of people to react with, and you're more likely to react with people in a crowd than at home. The closer together people are, the more likely they are to react. You need to go to some club that's heaving: by sitting in a pub with one man and his dog in the corner, you could be limiting your chances.”
Dr Jones' field research has even led him to experiment with pheromones, substances that transmit messages between members of the same species.
These substances are even marketed as dating aids, supposedly making the wearer more attractive to members of the opposite sex.
“There is some evidence that you can have human pheromones. Males produce pheromones to attract females,” he says.
But do they work? “Probably, but then so could getting a good haircut and a wash,” he says.
“There's reasonable evidence they exist, but whether they still work or not is a different matter. One theory is that our evolution has gone past the use of pheromones.
“A lot of females are on the pill, and that messes up the receptive mechanisms. The messages will only be received at certain times when they are ready to mate.”
Dr Jones and friends decided to put these substances to the test. “We did have a night out on the pheromones, which was hilarious,” he says.
Whether it was the pheromones or not, he can't be sure, but they ended up having a great time.
“The truth is you want to cop off with somebody at the end of the night, but some of the best nights are where you speak to lots and lots of people and have a laugh with some people you've never met before and probably never will again.
“The first night without pheromones we were quite insular and in our own little world, but the night we wore them was great.
“No, we didn't pull but I have to say we had a really good night out and spoke to a lot of women.”
“You just don't know whether it's the pheromone or the way you behave. Perhaps it's the position you put yourself in: they talk to you more and interact.
“Other people see it and think, 'They must be an interesting person - I'll talk to them'.”
When women are at their most fertile, Dr Jones says, they can be very receptive to pheromones, but when they are not they can be repulsed by them. That is a safety instinct kicking in, he says. “Although humans do have sex for pleasure, that's a risky business: there is the danger of sexually-transmitted diseases, for instance.”
Leaving aside the question of whether or not they work, don't these pheromone sprays smell pretty nasty?
“Sometimes they do smell, sometimes they don't. Some people can smell them, others can't. Some people say they smell musty, some say they smell of urine.” Mmm, nice.
Dr Jones' lecture also looks at how we should dress for a night out: bright, luminous clothing could help us attract the opposite sex, he says. Whether we'd want to go out dressed up like a lollipop lady is surely another matter entirely, however. And he covers the topic of dancing, too. “I have a whole section on how you can learn to disco dance,” he says. “You probably don't realise it, but a lot of scientists are very good on the dance floor. That's because we spend a lot of time studying spectroscopy - that's the way that molecules dance when they become excited in some way. “A 10-minute session on how molecules dance will turn you into John Travolta.”
Molecules are a favourite subject of Dr Jones, who admits he's passionate about them. In 2002 he led the team that built a Guinness World Record-making model of DNA in Stoke on Trent, and this summer he curated Molecules Matter, an exhibition at the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh.
Dr Jones has his own company called Sexy Science Inc. So, are scientists sexy? “Oh yes,” he smiles. “Some of the sexiest people in the world are scientists.”
Friday Night Science is at Norwich Playhouse from 6pm to 7pm on Friday, September 8. The show contains sexually explicit material and is suitable for people aged 15 and over. Tickets are £3 (concessions £1, available from Norwich Tourist Information Centre, The Forum). Tickets and passes for events at the week-long festival can be booked online at www.the-ba.net