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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 12:53 GMT 13:53 UK
Physics enlisted to help singles
Couple in Delhi
Waiting for Mr or Mrs Right might be the best option
Successful couples are said to have chemistry, but a study by an Oxford graduate suggests that dating may actually have more to do with physics.

Richard Ecob adapted a system for modelling atoms in radioactive decay to investigate how we look for partners.

He found that "super daters", people who have many short relationships, have a good effect on others' lives.

This is because they break up weak couples, forcing their victims to find better relationships.

Transit states

At the root of the system, says Mr Ecob, is the similarity between the probability of the nucleus of an atom decaying and that of a couple breaking up.

The decay of a nucleus is described in terms of "transit states": the series of change it has been through to get to its current situation.

The probability of someone having been in two relationships, for example, is the same as that of a nucleus decaying twice.

"We had an inkling that it might be the same because we saw similarities," he told the BBC News website.

"When we worked it out, the graphs we got were very similar."

People outside a bar
Having more varied tastes has no impact on finding a partner
To model the phenomenon, he wrote a computer program which placed "software singles", people seeking partners, in an imaginary social network.

Each single had a set of interests, which they also looked for in potential partners.

The research suggested that multiple daters, those who form many relationships, were less effective at finding the right partner than those who remained in one place and let others come to them.

"If you have a complex network and you stay in one site you see more traffic coming through," he said. "It's a denser network, so there are more possible matches."

Another surprising discovery was that an increased set of preferences made no difference to a single's chance of ending up in a relationship.

Despite modern people having more complex and varied interests than before, said Mr Ecob, this had no impact on their ability to date.

So long as they were still willing to accept partners who met only a fraction of their criteria, the number of potential matches remained the same.

Prestigious contest

The next stage of the project is to show that it can also be applied to business and political matches as well as it can to personal relationships.

"We think it'll match up the same," said Mr Ecob. "If you're with a phone company and you know they're not an ideal match, you're going to look for someone who is. It's a very similar situation."

Mr Ecob, who was recently awarded a first class Physics degree, undertook the study as part of his Masters research project. He worked closely with his supervisors, David Smith and Neil Johnson, who are now taking the study further.

They have entered the project in the prestigious Science, Engineering and Technology Student of the Year awards, which will be presented in London's Guildhall next month.

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