For Valentine’s Day, we asked a few of our LSU researchers (including a couple of sweetheart couples!) to define, for fun, the Law of Attraction. In reality, the term is used to explain phenomena in a variety of contexts, from electrostatics (opposite electric charges attract), to philosophy (the idea that people can bring positive or negative experiences into their lives by focusing on positive or negative thoughts). There’s even a novel, a film and a TV series named after the Law of Attraction!
But let’s see how LSU researchers think to explain this term, in honor of Valentine’s Day!
Law of Attraction = Stellar Disruption
When an astronomer thinks attraction, he or she thinks… gravitational pull.
“Attraction, when taken to the extremes, can cause complete stellar disruption,” said Manos Chatzopoulos, an assistant professor in the LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy who studies the relationships between stars. “Some binary star ‘couples’ take it to the next level... to a point where one of the stars gets completely immersed in the envelope of its companion to the point of no return. Complete tidal disruption follows for the smaller partner. Yet, surprisingly, this also leads to an eternal bonding between the two, since now the merged system lives as one unique star for tens of millions of years to come.”
The Law of Attraction Can Lead to a 2-Body Problem
Jessica Eberhard and Kyle Harms are both researchers in the LSU College of Science, and they are married with two children. Jessica studies the behavior, biogeography, and molecular systematics of birds within LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences and the LSU Museum of Natural Science, and Kyle studies species diversity in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences. Attraction between academic scientists can make it difficult for them to both get jobs in the same place, as tenure-track academic positions are prized possessions at research institutions like LSU, but it can also bring great joy.
“Being a couple in science can lead to the ‘two body problem,’ or difficulty in getting two jobs at the same institution,” Jessica says. “But there are lots of ways to resolve that problem, and there are many benefits. In our experience, a key to making things work is to be flexible, and satisfactory arrangements are likely to vary widely among different couples. Unfortunately, the academic system and many institutions are somewhat rigid, so creativity (and, again, flexibility) is often required. Having a biologist as a partner means that we share a curiosity about the natural world and are both excited about ideas and discoveries that we make in the course of our individual lines of research.”
Laws/Loss of Attraction = How New Species Form
“Attraction sits at the heart of my research on how new species form,” said Michael Hellberg, a marine biology researcher in LSU’s Department of Biological Sciences. “How do individuals that at one time accepted each other as appropriate mates come to the point where they want no part of each other?”
“For decades, we thought that populations and their mutual affections just drifted apart, but more recent studies suggest that ever-escalating spats between the interests of males and females, forced to mix their common genomes, drive divergence. For the free-spawning marine snails that I study, this results in rates of molecular evolution for interacting sperm and egg proteins that are among the fastest seen in animals."
Michael also has a sweetheart at LSU – Evanna Gleason, a retinal synaptic transmission researcher (she studies how neurons or nerve cells communicate in the vertebrate retina!) and Michael’s spouse.
“Fortunately, we as humans are not necessarily fated for such grim treadmills of antagonism as marine snails!” Michael said. “With some effort and luck, the differences between partners can make both stronger. This has proven true for my collaborations in Baja California: as a tall blond gringo, I could hardly look less a match, but local knowledge of natural history and imaging have complemented the genetic analysis opportunities available in my lab, to reciprocal benefit. More personally, my wife, friend and colleague Evanna, a warm Mediterranean opposite to my cool Nordic self, helps guide me back on path among peaks and valleys that would otherwise leave me lost.”
Opposites Attract – Even in Neurons
Evanna Gleason, a professor of biological sciences at LSU, in an expert on how opposites attract… in the brain. She studies neurons in the eye.
“Google ‘Law of Attraction’ and you will get an eyeful,” Evanna said. “Apparently, it is a massive lifestyle movement that is based on the premise that 'like attracts like.’ I am so glad that my neurons don’t know about this, because they would cease to function, immediately. The neurons I study in my lab, and every other neuron on the planet, and every other cell for that matter, has a voltage across its plasma membrane due to a slight inequality of charge on either side. At rest, a neuron has a voltage of approximately -70 mV (mV=millivolt). So, where are those charges and what are they doing? Well, negative charges are all piled up on the cytosolic (inside the cell) side of the membrane and positive charges are all piled up on the external side of the membrane of the cell. Why? Because ‘opposites attract.’ Lifestyle aside, physics rules!”
“Voltage and voltage changes are what make neurons and you and me tick,” Evanna said. “But back to lifestyle, I am not at all against having one, so thinking about the Law of Attraction, I consider what attracts me to the things I love. Science feeds my curiosity and my need to be creative, dogs help me to forget myself with their goofiness, joy and priorities, running gives me beautiful scenery, a chance to pick up trash, and a quiet mind where problems can be solved. Okay, it is Valentine’s Day, so I will tell you that I love my husband Michael for many reasons, but one of which is that he is my exact opposite.”
Did you know there were so many ways for people, animals and objects to be attracted to one another?!