All posts by Chad

Past Appearances/ Talks

An incomplete list of selected appearances/ speaking engagements in recent years, to give a sense of the kind of thing I regularly do:

Public Talks, Panel Discussions, etc.:

“Secret Science Club: Particle Fever,” guest scientist for a showing of the documentary Particle Fever; answered audience questions before and after the movie. October 25, 2014, organized by the Secret Science Club, hosted at MASS MoCA in North Adams, MA.

“Discovering Your Inner Scientist,” talk for the Bristol Festival of Ideas. August 13, 2014, at the Institute of Physics in Bristol, UK.

“What to Tell Your Dog About Einstein,” talk for “Physics Days” at the Space Center Houston. May 1-2, 2014, Space Center Houston, TX. (Blog post, with slides.)

“Quantum Crosswords,” talk at the TED@NYC talent search in New York. (TED hasn’t posted video, but it’s the same material as this video). October 8, 2013, Joe’s Pub in Manhattan.

“What Every Dog Should Know About Quantum Physics,” talk at the opening of the Quantum Nano Center at the University of Waterloo. (Video, with some minor technical issues regarding the slides) September 29, 2012, in Waterloo, Ontario.

“Bridging Worlds,” panel discussion at the opening of the Quantum Nano Center at the University of Waterloo (Video of the panel) September 29, 2012 in Waterloo, Ontario.

Science Communication, Science Education:

“Talking to My Dog About Science: Why Public Communication of Science Matters, and How Social Media Can Help,” colloquium talk at the University of Binghamton. December 9, 2013, in Binghamton, NY. (Also many other places, under more or less the same title…)

“What Physics Knowledge Is Assessed in TIMSS Advanced 2008?,” AAAS Annual Meeting, Washington, DC, February 2011. (APS News writeup)

“Lasers in the Undergraduate Laboratory: Precision Measurement for the Masses,” talk at APS March Meeting (slides) March 16, 2010.

“Communicating Science in the 21st Century,” panel discussion at the Quantum to Cosmos festival. (Video) October 24, 2009 at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ontario.

Technical Lectures

“High Precision, Not High Energy: Using Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics to Look Beyond the Standard Model,” Nordita Science Writers Workshop. (Video and slides) August 28, 2014, Stockholm, Sweden.

“What’s So Interesting About AMO Physics?,” American Physical Society Division of Atomic, Molecular, and Optical Physics (DAMOP) Meeting, Atlanta, GA, June 2011.

“Counting Atoms for Astrophysics: Atom Traps, Neutrino Detectors, and Radioactive Background Measurements,” Southern Connecticut State University Physics Colloquium, New Haven, CT, April 2011.

Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist

My third book, published December 2014 by Basic Books.

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s

Audio edition (March 2015): Audible

Cover Copy

Even in the twenty-first century the popular image of a scientist is a reclusive genius in a lab coat, mixing formulas or working out equations inaccessible to all but the initiated few. The idea that scientists are somehow smarter than the rest of us is a common, yet dangerous, misconception, getting us off the hook for not knowing—or caring—how the world works. How did science become so divorced from our everyday experience? Is scientific understanding so far out of reach for the non-scientists among us?

As science popularizer Chad Orzel argues in Eureka, even the people who are most forthright about hating science are doing science, often without even knowing it. Orzel shows that science isn’t something alien and inscrutable beyond the capabilities of ordinary people, it’s central to the human experience. Every human can think like a scientist, and regularly does so in the course of everyday activities. The disconnect between this reality and most people’s perception is mostly due to the common misconception that science is a body of (boring, abstract, often mathematical) facts. In truth, science is best thought of as a process: Looking at the world, Thinking about what makes it work, Testing your mental model by comparing it to reality, and Telling others about your results. The facts that we too often think of as the whole of science are merely the product of this scientific process. Eureka shows that this process is one we all regularly use, and something that everybody can do.

By revealing the connection between the everyday activities that people do—solving crossword puzzles, playing sports, or even watching mystery shows on television—and the processes used to make great scientific discoveries, Orzel shows that if we recognize the process of doing science as something familiar, we will be better able to appreciate scientific discoveries, and use scientific facts and thinking to help address the problems that affect us all.

Cover of Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist.
Cover of Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist.

People Saying Nice Things About It:

“This fun, diverse, and accessible look at how science works will convert even the biggest science phobe.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Similar to Richard Rhodes or Dava Sobel, Orzel makes complicated scientific narratives accessible to lay readers.” —Library Journal

“In writing that is welcoming but not overly bouncy, persuasive in a careful way but also enticing, Orzel reveals the ‘process of looking at the world, figuring out how things work, testing that knowledge, and sharing it with others.’” —Kirkus Reviews

“I know, I know, you think you’re just not smart enough to be a scientist. Chad Orzel might convince you otherwise with Eureka. Drawing on basketball, stamp collecting, Angry Birds, Iron Chef, and Antiques Roadshow among his many colorful examples, he ably demonstrates that science is not a rarefied alien endeavor performed solely by those with genius IQs. It’s a process, and a way of thinking about the world available to all. Surprise! You’re probably committing acts of science every day.”—Jennifer Ouellette, author of The Calculus Diaries and Me, Myself and Why

“Chad Orzel is absolutely right: everyone has a scientist inside them, eager to burst out and look at the world in a new way. This book provides great examples that will inspire you to let your inner scientist free.”—Sean Carroll, theoretical physicist at Caltech and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe

“Many people are curious about the natural world, but few consider themselves scientists. Using an engaging array of examples of scientific discovery—some recent, others drawn from history—Chad Orzel takes readers on a wonderful tour of how scientists think.”—David Kaiser, Germeshausen Professor of the History of Science, MIT and author of How the Hippies Saved Physics: Science, Counterculture, and the Quantum Revival

“Chad Orzel’s previous two books were just fine and dandy. However, this one is awesome. If anyone wants an insight into nature and the process of science, this is the book to get. Chad uses his witty writing style along with historical stories to show that science is part of our human nature.
Do you have a non-scientist friend? They will love this book. Or maybe your friend is a scientist—yup, it’s for scientists too.”—Rhett Allain, Professor of Physics at Southeastern Louisiana University and author of WIRED Magazine’s Dot Physics

Amazon, Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, Powell’s

How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog

Published by Basic Books, 2012.

Cover Copy

Physics professor Chad Orzel and his inquisitive canine companion, Emmy, tackle the concepts of general relativity in this irresistible introduction to Einstein’s physics. Through armchair —and sometimes passenger-seat —conversations with Emmy about the relative speeds of dog and cat motion or the logistics of squirrel-chasing, Orzel translates complex Einsteinian ideas — the slowing of time for a moving observer, the shrinking of moving objects, the effects of gravity on light and time, black holes, the Big Bang, and of course, E=mc2 —into examples simple enough for a dog to understand.

A lively romp through one of the great theories of modern physics, How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about space, time, and anything else you might have slept through in high school physics class.

For more information, visit How to Teach Physics to Your Dog.

Cover of How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog
Cover of How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog

How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog

Published by Scribner, 2009; cover redesign in 2014.

Cover Copy

When physics professor Chad Orzel went to the pound to adopt a dog, he never imagined Emmy. She wasn’t just a friendly mutt who needed a home. Soon she was trying to use the strange ideas of quantum mechanics for the really important things in her life: chasing critters, getting treats, and going for walks. She peppered Chad with questions: Could she use quantum tunneling to get through the neighbor’s fence and chase bunnies? What about quantum teleportation to catch squirrels before they climb out of reach? Where are all the universes in which Chad drops steak on the floor?

With great humor and clarity, Chad Orzel explains to Emmy, and to human readers, just what quantum mechanics is and how it works—and why, although you can’t use it to catch squirrels or eat steak, it’s still bizarre, amazing, and important to every dog and human.

For more information, visit How to Teach Physics to Your Dog

Cover for How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog (Scribner, 2014 redesign)
Cover for How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog (Scribner, 2014 redesign)

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.)

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