Henry felt a bit awkward as he walked into to his first college party. (This is science news–you’ll see)
He was on the same wavelength as his peers in class and could happily trade quips about philosophy or bio, but walking into the cramped frat basement he felt like they all spoke an exclusive language of gestures and dances that was utterly alien. Seeing nobody he knew, he slipped into a corner between a table piled with people’s jackets and a pair of students making out on a couch and stood uncomfortably listening to the music evolve. Of course, this music wasn’t literally evolving—not like DarwinTunes, created by an Imperial College London researcher who randomly generated loops and let people vote online for those that sounded best. The highest-rated loops were paired up and generated offspring with traits from each, creating a new generation even more pleasing to the human ear. What starts out as jarring noise winds up sounding a lot like music.
The couple pairing up near Henry wasn’t generating offspring—at least not yet—but he decided to move anyway and maybe try to dance with someone. That’s what you did at parties, right? He scanned the scene in front of him and tried to choose a girl to ask who wouldn’t be too awkward. Like a shark, he carefully observed the changing groups of girls to find a target. A video game for sharks has revealed the grouping behaviors of fish that offer them the greatest protection (simulated schooling strategies were tested on the shark and evolved into their most successful forms), and Henry could have sworn that the girls were using the most unbeatable grouping possible. It’d be ridiculous for him to even get near one of the girls standing alone, let alone talk to her. Let alone ask her to dance. Nonetheless he decided to wade into the mass and give it some sort of try.
As the music turned to something slow couples suddenly latched together, trapping Henry in a mob of undulating duos. So much for finding a girl alone. Henry began to push his way out again, but just like cucumber vines, the more they were pulled at the harder the couples intertwined. Scientists have only recently understood this behavior of cucumber tendrils, and it took a combination of complicated mathematical modeling, cell biology, and physical models to identify the entire mechanism that lets them coil more tightly when pulled instead of straightening out.
Henry eyed the alcohol table, wondering if it’d make the experience any better. He darted glances between a rounded glass of something red and a straight-edged glass full of bubbling liquid, but ultimately decided that having never had a drink, this crowded, confusing, smelly basement wasn’t the place to start (and if he’d chosen the rounded glass he would have drunk more, according to University of Bristol research).
He pushed his way to the door, frantically looking again for someone—anyone—that he recognized from classes. But they were utterly unfamiliar. Finally he shrugged, retrieved his jacket from the side of the room, and squeezed out and up the narrow steps, breathing fresh air at last. He should have just stayed home and read a book. Made of DNA.
That was science news, by the way, in case it wasn’t clear. Next week will be some sort of observation about life, as per my schedule!