UCL researchers hope for a spark of chemistry on first date

December 16, 2005

Forget playing hard to get - researchers at University College London were this week encouraged to talk about the Big Bang on a first date, writes Anna Fazackerley.

The university hosted its first speed-dating event for researchers, with the aim of sparking academic ideas rather than romance.

Medics and scientists were thrown together with researchers in disciplines including English, anthropology and maths and encouraged to think of ways in which they could interact to take their work in new directions.

The event followed the speed-dating model - except researchers were not allowed to overcome their inhibitions with alcohol. Participants filled out a dating registration form decorated with pink hearts, on which they had to explain what was attractive about their research.

A whistle was blown by the master and mistress of ceremony every eight minutes, signalling that one researcher in each couple should move to the next desk to road-test a new potential partner.

The event, which organisers wanted to be "far removed from images of fusty academia", was advertised around the campus with posters saying: "You only love me for my brain" and "talk about the Big Bang on your first date".

David Atkinson, a researcher in UCL's department of computer science, said before the event: "I've never been speed dating myself so I don't know what to expect. It's cheesy but it could be a bit of a laugh. It is so easy to get stuck in your own little office focusing on your own research. It'll be nice to meet new people at UCL."

Louise Harra, a researcher in UCL's department of space and climate physics, said: "I think people might feel a bit awkward but it's a really good idea because you hardly ever hear about what other researchers are doing - even in your own faculty.

"I don't have any idea what researchers are working on in the arts and humanities. If they achieve something through this bizarre concept, it'd be really good."

Jane Fenoulhet, dean of arts and humanities at UCL, suggested the speed-dating idea. She said: "I hope the evening will galvanise and stimulate young researchers in particular by encouraging them to talk across boundaries more and more.

"We're not looking for a love match, but who knows what will come of it?"

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