Speaking at TED@NYC, October 2013; Photo by Ryan Lash.

Speaking: General Information

I have given presentations to audiences ranging from elementary-school classes to science-fiction conventions to international research conferences. I’m generally happy to go places and talk about science; if you put on events at which I might be an appropriate speaker, contact me at orzelc@steelypips.org, and we can probably work something out.

I’m happy to tailor presentations to the specific needs of a particular event, and do book readings, panel discussions, and Q&A sessions, but most of my public speaking tends to be in the form of lectures. In general, these fall into three broad groups, with representative examples below.

General Public

These talks are based on my popular-audience books, and suitable for outreach programs, science festivals, and similar events.

Discovering Your Inner Scientist: In the popular imagination, science is a collection of arcane facts that only a tiny minority of people are capable of understanding. In reality, science a process for generating knowledge by looking at the world, thinking of possible explanations for interesting phenomena, testing those models by observation and experiment, and telling the results of those tests to others. This process is an essential human activity, something we all do every day, often just for fun. In this talk, I explain how everyday activities like card games, crossword puzzles, and sports make use of the same mental tools scientists have used to revolutionize our understanding of the universe.

(Based on Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist.)

(For a sense of the general flavor of this talk, see the YouTube videos Quantum Crosswords (based on a talk for the TED@NYC talent search in 2013) and Bridge to Dark Matter.)

What Every Dog Should Know About Quantum Physics: Quantum physics, the science of extremely small things like atoms and subatomic particles, is one of the best tested theories in the history of science, and also one of the most bizarre. Many of its predictions– particles that behave like waves, cats that are alive and dead at the same time, objects that pass through barriers as if they weren’t even there– seem more like science fiction than science fact. In this talk I explain the reality behind some of the stranger aspects of quantum physics, and why it is so important that even dogs should know about it.

(Based on How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog.)

(A version of this talk is embedded in this 2011 blog post.)

What to Tell Your Dog About Einstein: Albert Einstein is such an iconic figure that most people, and more than a few dogs, can instantly recognize him as a famous scientist. Very few of those people could explain why he is famous, though. Despite its fearsome reputation, the core idea of Einstein’s theory of relativity could fit on a bumper sticker: The Laws of Physics Do Not Depend on How You’re Moving. In this talk, I explain how this remarkably simple idea leads to profound consequences for our ideas of space and time.

(Based on How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog.)

Science Communication

I’ve been blogging since 2002, and have given a number of presentations on the use of social media in science communication. These are primarily aimed at educators and students of science or journalism.

Talking to My Dog About Science: Why Public Communication of Science Matters, and How Social Media Can Help: Budget cuts and funding instability are a constant source of anxiety for professional scientists, and public uncertainty about science threatens to derail critical policy actions in areas like climate change and public health. I will argue that these issues indicate a need for scientists to speak more effectively to a broad audience, and talk about one way social media technologies can help this process.

(An early version of this talk, from a workshop in 2008, is archived at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

Technical Lectures

I’ve given numerous presentations on my own research in AMO physics or offering broader overviews of parts of the field. An example of the latter is the pair of talks on precision measurement I gave at a workshop for science journalists in Stockholm in August 2014:

High Precision, Not High Energy: Using Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics to Look Beyond the Standard Model The Standard Model of particle physics is one of the most successful theories in the history of science, but we know from phenomena like matter-antimatter asymmetry, dark matter and dark energy, and neutrino masses that the Standard Model is not complete. While the best-known searches for physics beyond the Standard Model involve particle accelerators and detectors the size of office buildings, there are smaller experiments in labs around the world looking for signs of new physics with atoms, molecules, and lasers. While the effects of exotic particles are tiny at the atomic scale, the unparalleled precision of modern spectroscopic techniques makes it possible to detect even such minuscule effects, and these measurements provide some of the tightest constraints we know of on physics beyond the Standard Model. In these talks, I will review the basics of the interaction between atoms and light, and how such systems have been used to detect exotic effects. I will also discuss the operation of atomic clocks, and how the development of frequency measurements accurate to 17 decimal places allows physicists to changes in the constants of nature, violations of fundamental symmetries, and other exotic phenomena using experimental apparatus that fits comfortably within a single room.

(Video and slides from this talk can be found in this blog post.)


(“Featured Image” photo: Speaking at TED@NYC in October 2013. Photo by Ryan Lash.)