Higgs Boson Physicist May Have Killed the Birth Control Pill

Hormonal contraceptives might be a thing of the past.

When the physicists working with the Large Hadron Collider at CERN discovered the Higgs boson “God particle,” the scientific community threw their version of a party, a series of heady conferences, and Peter Higgs won the Nobel Prize. But Elina Berglund, who is part of that team, wasn’t content to simply change physics and confirm Einstein’s model of the universe. So she did what people who aren’t content do: She created an app. Dubbed Natural Cycles, Berglund’s venture into software is revolutionary. Using statistics and an advanced algorithm, the app brings the “rhythm method” of birth control into the second space age. Will it replace the birth control pill entirely? Probably not, but it provides a viable and chemical-free alternative for women that need or want one.

Natural Cycles works like this: Users take their temperature every morning and record that reading with the Natural Cycles app. Using that data, Natural Cycles tracks and analyzes menstrual cycles to determine ovulation and windows of fertility and infertility. As such, it will be as useful to those looking to conceive, as it is to those looking to avoid unplanned pregnancies. There are no hormones — well, no outside hormones — involved. That’s a big selling point.

Though there was once a lot of trepidation surrounding period tracking and fertility awareness, much of the issues seem to have been a result of bad math — something the introduction of sophisticated algorithms can solve. According to trials under real-world conditions, Natural Cycles has a 99.5 percent efficacy rating, putting it on par with the pill.

After the discovery of the Higgs boson, Berglund wanted to move on to something totally different. But she drew inspiration for Natural Cycles from her own life. After spending $500 on Lady-Comp — a natural fertility monitor — Berglund used the tools at her disposal at CERN to create an algorithm that helps users take advantage of advanced statistical methods similar to those used to give the Higgs boson discovery a five-sigma distinction for a fraction of the price of other fertility monitors.

To be fair, Natural Cycles and data-driven natural contraceptive methods may not be for everyone. They require a lot of discipline. During trials, 133 of the 4,000 women using the app got pregnant because they were using it wrong. That could be a UX issue or a user issue, but, either way, it’s a problem.

Even if Natural Cycles isn’t perfect, it’s miles ahead of the fertility awareness methods that existed a decade ago. It’s a big step forward for women and couples who want to get frisky (with a minimal margin of error) at the next big physics conference.

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