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Chemistry of Love: Interview with Dr Michael Londesborough

9 FEBRUARY 2016 - How does the body affect love and love affect the body? Nick Mastrini talks to scientist and chemistry researcher Michael Londesborough, whose talk Chemistry of Love will take place on the 16th February in The Book Club in London.

Could you define love in one sentence?
A wonderful biochemical mechanism by which Life's genetic code, and the molecular complexity of our DNA, defeats the 2nd law of thermodynamics (that's the one which provides a tendency for anything complex and ordered in the Universe to fall into pieces and chaos).

Would you say that love can be entirely explained by science, or is too abstract to do so?
Ultimately, everything is clearer through the lens of science, and only scientific explanations hold water.  Love is a construct of hormones, neurotransmitters, and various bodily organs including, of course, most importantly the brain, which in itself is relatively poorly understood.  Nevertheless, I will attempt to explain love mainly in these terms.  However, the works of writers, poets and composers do help us get to grip on this ethereal emotion, so I shall be using their aesthetic power to back up the science of love.

How can Shakespeare's sonnets be linked to the science of love?
I don't want to give too much away here, as it will be the central theme of my talk, but....For me Shakespeare is perhaps the best wordsmith for painting scenarios of love and lust that most accurately reveal all its perspectives; sometimes raw and raunchy, other times gentle and romantic.  I believe that his sonnets often mirror a lot of the biochemistry of love that we understand today. For example, in his first seventeen sonnets, Shakespeare's emphasis is on procreation as a means to continue one's beauty and youth ("From fairest creatures we desire increase, That thereby beauty's rose might never die, But as the riper should by time decease, His tender heir might bear his memory:"), which reflects the chemical reality of love as being a means to secure the passing on of genes from one generation to the next.  Shakespeare also distinguishes very effectively between love and lust, as does biochemistry - "Love's gentle Spring doth always remain fresh, Lust's Winter comes ere Summer half be done". Thus, both science and Shakespeare indicate feelings of lust and desire to be of a temporary nature, whereas a truly loving relationship is governed by different principles/chemicals.

If everyone has a unique genetic make-up, are some more likely to feel love than others?
Yes, I believe this to be very likely. For example, the parts of our brain that control aspects of our character such as loyalty, empathy and faithfulness (all very important to love) have, across any population, varying sensitivities towards important hormones and neurotransmitters that activate them.

Would you consider love a feeling, an act, or both?
I consider love to be a construct of feelings and actions - a highly developed motivational strategy to urge us to reproduce and look after the new holders of the genetic code.  On another level, I also consider love to be jolly nice and generally very useful at keeping life interesting, exciting and worthwhile.

Are we born with a natural ability to feel love, or is it caused more by what influences us as we grow up?
I should think that it is a combination of both.  What revs up our excitement, desire, empathy, adoration, etc is a complex concoction of stimuli, some of which will be genetically determined and others a product of our upbringing and culture.

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Dr Michael Londesborough is an independent researcher at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague working on the borons – a group of inorganic compounds consisting of boron and hydrogen. Author or co-author of 40 original scientific papers, he has two contributions in books on modern boron chemistry and one national patent. He is also the author and presenter of a weekly Czech TV science programme, winner of the “Best Educational Programme” award at the 45th International Festival TECHFILM 2008. He is also involved in various projects concerning the publicising and communication of science and the teaching of science to younger people for which he has received  numerous awards.


Chemistry of Love with Dr Michael Londesborough
Tuesday 16 February 2016
7:30pm – 9 pm (doors open at 7pm)
The Book Club, 100 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4RH
Admission: £4 in advance, £6 on door + £0.60 handeling
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