Dating isn't just about a candle-lit dinner, long walks on the beach or swiping right on a mobile-app come Saturday night.

For geographers, it can come down to an individual grain of sand, someone's ethnicity or scrubbing up for the big night.

Through studying people's encounters with their environments or with others, geographers are getting down to the nitty gritty of who we are, where we came from, why and where we do things, and who we love.

When Dating is Literally Groundbreaking

Not many people could claim to have had 800,000 years worth of dating experience, but that is Professor Zenobia Jacobs' next mission.

Her kind of dating, optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating, digs beneath the surface of the earth.

Professor Jacobs, a Professorial Research Fellow in UOW's School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, uses OSL to determine the age of individual sand grains and help establish a timeline for archaeological or fossil assemblages.

She says her work is across three disciplines, very typical when working in the broader field of Geography.

"Archaeology, that’s the story telling aspect for me, it's sort of that curiosity about where we come from, how old are we and how did we develop over time," she says.

"It’s also in geochronology, which is trying to determine the age of archaeological assemblages or fossil assemblages.

"And in physical geography we determine how landscapes have evolved over time and how humans have interacted with that landscape, as environments and climates have continually changed over long and short time-scales."

These dating studies have led to many big discoveries about the early days of our own species - Homo sapiens – but most of that history largely remains a mystery.

As part of an ARC Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship, Professor Jacobs was part of a team that discovered a type of bone tool used by Neanderthals to fashion leather about 50,000 years ago.

This finding was the first clear evidence that Neanderthals, in Europe, independently developed a new technology, which modern humans, in Africa, later adopted. A similar tool is still actively being used today by some of the world's best known fashion houses to craft, for example, leather handbags.

On her next venture. Professor Jacobs will join a team of researchers to investigate the enigmatic Denisovans – a human species only known from its ancient genome, discovered a from a small number of fossil teeth and bones unearthed in Denisova Cave in the foothills of the Siberian Altai Mountains in 2010.

Using the sand dating method, Professor Jacobs will aim to establish an accurate timeline for archaeological, environmental and fossil assemblages found in this region from the past 800,000 years.

Geography: what’s love got to do with it?

From historic dates to dinner dates - geography matters for modern couples.

  • Where will you meet?
  • Is your relationship long-distance?
  • Was your partner born in another country?
  • What neighbourhood will you raise your children in?

Senior lecturer in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, and researcher with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, Dr Natascha Klocker, has asked these questions to find location can play a major role in relationships.

Dr Klocker's research offers new insights into a range of aspects of the geography of relationships, like how migration has led to a growing number of inter-ethnic couples.

"We live in a highly mobile world, around one-quarter of Australians were born overseas," Dr Klocker says. "In this context, it is becoming increasingly common for people to date, and eventually settle down with people from different ethnic backgrounds."

This is especially relevant to university students – Dr Klocker's research has shown that university campuses are a really common place for mixed couples to meet.

The good news is that young people today don't tend to face the same social barriers as their parents and grandparents may have faced when dating people from other backgrounds.

"While occasional stories of discrimination exist, the dominant experience among the couples we've interviewed is that Australia, in 2016, is a very accepting place for mixed couples," Dr Klocker says.

Geography and love go hand in hand. The discipline not only asks questions about where social relationships are built - where couples meet for instance - but is also interested in the resources people consume to sustain particular practices, like that shower you had before heading out on a date.

Similar to ancient grains of sand, the habitual practice of showering before a romantic date provides another important piece of information that helps explain people’s environmental resource use.

Sometimes water usage isn't understood using litres, but in the context of how people live their everyday lives.

Professor Gordon Waitt in the School of Geography and Sustainable Communities, and researcher with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research says that asking people how many times, and for how many minutes they shower each day sheds light on the wider impact of this social practice. Information about people's everyday lives helps policy makers plan for a more sustainable future.

"Since the 1970s, the shower has become a standardised Australian household technology," Professor Waitt says.

"It was initially thought it would reduce urban household water consumption. Instead, shower technology has become understood as convenient in our increasingly spatially fragmented schedules and embedded in shared cultural understandings of cleanliness, invigoration and relaxation."

Don't be alarmed! Professor Waitt isn't suggesting that you skip your pre-date shower. But he does want you to think about the cultural norms behind your showering habits.

Who would have thought that sand, migration and showers could lead to a date with geography?

Want to make a date with geography? Check out the range of UOW Geography degrees and study for a lifetime of careers that goes far beyond maps and graphs.