Love in the lab: Close collaborators

Kerri Smith in Nature:

THINKSTOCK-VECTOR-498647733When physicists Claudia Felser and Stuart Parkin were introduced at a conference on applied magnetics, they felt an immediate attraction. But then, standing outside the Amsterdam conference centre, they started talking shop. It did not go well. Parkin was interested in finding materials he could use to make miniature data-storage devices. Felser espoused the benefits of her pet topic: Heusler compounds, alloys with modifiable magnetic properties. “But he was not interested!” she laughs. Parkin thought that the compounds sounded as though they would be too difficult to interface with other materials. “So this was not a successful introduction,” Felser says. But the two kept in touch. And as Felser shared her growing knowledge about the semiconductor and quantum properties of Heusler compounds, Parkin grew more curious about the molecules — and about Felser. At the end of 2009, she decided to take a sabbatical from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, to work at the headquarters of IBM in San Jose, California, where Parkin worked. “I invited her to stay with me,” Parkin says. They were a couple from then on. “So this was more or less how it started and we're still working together,” he says.

Felser and Parkin are one of thousands of couples who met through science. According to a 2010 survey by the US National Science Foundation, just over one-quarter of married people with doctorates had a spouse working in science or engineering1. Such partnerships are on the rise: in 1993, the proportion was one-fifth. More and more institutions are hiring couples. A 2008 survey2 of around 9,000 US researchers found that the proportion of hires that went to couples rose from 3% in the 1970s to 13% in the 2000s. And data from the online dating service PlentyOfFish reveal that users with a graduate degree are three times more likely than the average user to form a couple with someone with a similar level of education. Collaboration is key to the scientific process, but when collaborators are romantic partners, that relationship offers some unique advantages — a deep understanding of each other's personality and motivations — as well as the risk that work will dominate conversation at the dinner table.

More here.