Can an alien hunting formula help you find love? Physicist develops a tool based on ‘Drake Equation’

Ever found yourself wondering ‘why am I alone?’ or ‘is there anyone out there for me?’. Well, a physicist and computer programmer has a tool that just might help. 

Steven Wooding from Southampton combined a love of astrophysics and statistics to build a tool that calculates the odds of finding ‘the one’.

It is based on the famous Drake Equation, which was formulated by American astrophysicist Dr Frank Drake in 1961 as a way to examine the likelihood of finding intelligent alien life somewhere in the known universe.

It looks at increasingly unlikely factors, from the average rate of star formation, through to the fraction of planets that go on to develop intelligent life. 

Wooding and his colleague Rijk de Wet, a data scientist, applied this approach to the dating world, estimating the chance of love from a range of factors, including population growth rate, attractiveness, age range and education level. 

It even compares the chance of finding love based on your own criteria, which includes your opinion of how good looking you are, to the chance of finding aliens. 

‘In my case, the odds of love are 2.1 times better than there being one 1,000 light-years away,’ Mr Wooding told

Ever found yourself wondering ‘why am I alone?’ or ‘Is there anyone out there for me?’, well a physicist and computer programmer has a tool that might help. Stock image


Each variable whittles away at the population, to predict the chance of finding love.

It uses the same maths as the Drake equation but with new variables.

G = R . fG . fL . fA . fU . fB . L

Variable  Description 
G Your number of potential partners.
The UK’s population growth. 
 fG The fraction of the UK’s population who are the appropriate gender. 
 fL The fraction of men/women (as per your preference) living in your city. 
 fA The fraction of men/women in your city who are in your preferred age range. 
 fU The fraction of age-appropriate men/women in your city with a university education (optional). 
 fB The fraction of university-educated, age-appropriate men/women in your city who you find physically attractive. 
 L Your own age. 

When Frank Drake created his equation, it wasn’t with the goal of finding aliens, or saying ‘this is how we know if aliens exist’, but rather to encourage debate.

Wooding says he took a similar approach, saying he wanted everyone to ‘benefit from the equation and look at their chances of love with a scientific mindset’.

This isn’t the first time the equation has been turned to the subject of finding love. 

Peter Backus, currently a professor at the University of Manchester, used the Drake Equation in 2010 to predict that there were only 26 women in the entire UK that would be a good match for him – based on appearance, age and intellect.

Despite giving himself a one in 285,000 chance of finding ‘the one’, Backus met ‘Rose’ at a dinner with friends and they got married in 2013.

‘As someone who loves the topic of aliens, I got really interested in the idea of adapting the Drake Equation into the dating world, as Peter Backus did in his darkly humorous study,’ explained Wooding in an interview with 

‘I believe that adding the fun factor of comparing their chances to the likelihood of an alien civilisation somehow puts things into perspective and makes them realise whether there really aren’t many options in their area or if their preferences are just too narrow.’

The Drake Equation reads: N = R* x Fp x Ne x Fi x Fc x L, and led to Professor Drake predicting that there could be 10,000 civilisations in our galaxy. 

In the famous equation N is the number of civilizations in the galaxy we may be able to communicate with that are within our ‘cone of light’ from Earth.

In order the others look at: the rate of star formation; the fraction of stars with a planet; the average number of planets that could support life; the fraction of planets that develop life; the fraction of planets with a civilization; the fraction of civilizations with detectable technology; and the length of time they release signals into space. 

When it comes to finding love, Wooding switched celestial measurements with those of the human scale.

It predicts the odds of being single on Valentines Day by applying the formula developed by Backus, off the back of the Drake Equation. It asks your location, your attractiveness, based on your own rating, and your rating of your own social skills. 

Steven Wooding from Southampton, England, combined a love of astrophysics and statistics to build a tool that calculates the odds of finding 'the one'. Stock image

Steven Wooding from Southampton, England, combined a love of astrophysics and statistics to build a tool that calculates the odds of finding ‘the one’. Stock image

It also asks details about a potential partner, including their gender, whether they are university education, age range you are looking for and attractiveness you’d expect.

‘Once you’ve entered all the inputs of the calculator, it will show you the number of potential partners that are out there,’ Wooding explained.

‘It also tells you the percentage chance of finding love based on the number of people in your chosen city or the whole of the UK.’

It is currently only available for singletons in the UK, as it relies on data such as population statistics and the number of people in higher education. 

Wooding said the chance of finding love is likely much higher than the chance of finding alien lift that we can have a conversation with. 

‘It would be great if we did, but the probability is quite low. Aliens should be out there somewhere though, given that we now find nearly every star has at least one planet,’ Wooding told

‘The main issue I think is that we currently rely on the technology of the alien civilisation being compatible with ours, which we might be overestimating. 

‘Our sensors are now getting to the point where we can detect what is in the atmosphere of exoplanets, so that might be another way to detect life.’


The Drake Equation is a seven-variable way of finding the chance of active civilisations existing beyond Earth.

It takes into account factors like the rate of star formation, the amount of stars that could form planetary systems, the number potentially habitable planets in those systems.

The 55-year-old equation, updated in 2016, includes recent data from Nasa’s Kepler satellite on the number of exoplanets that could harbour life.

Researchers also adapted the equation from being about the number of civilisations that exist now, to being about the probability of civilisation being the only one that has ever existed.

Researchers found the odds of an advanced civilisation developing need to be less than one in 10 billion trillion for humans to be the only intelligent life in the universe.

Unless the odds of advanced life evolving on a habitable planet are astonishingly low, then humankind is not the only advanced civilisation to have lived. 

But Kepler data places those odds much higher, which means technologically advanced aliens are likely to have existed at some point.