Chad Orzel has a knack for taking complex scientific issues and making them interesting, easier to digest and less intimidating for non-scientists.
An associate professor of physics, Orzel’s ability to simplify difficult subjects is evident in his classroom lectures, breezy books featuring Emmy, his trusty German shepherd mix, or in his daily blog.
Orzel’s next challenge comes Dec. 3 as one of the featured presenters at TEDxAlbany, a full day of talks intended to” inspire, inform and to provoke you to take action in your community and globally.”
An independent event from the main TED conference that annually brings together some of the world’s top thinkers and doers, the Albany session showcases 10 talks ranging from “STEM Education for the Young to Young-At-Heart,” to “How to Save 1,000 New York Farms in the Next 10 Years.”
In his 18-minute presentation, “The Exotic Physics of an Ordinary Morning,” Orzel will explain how even the mundane process of getting up and getting ready for work relies on quantum mechanics that people take for granted, starting with the bleeping sound of a bedside alarm.
As a physicist with some public presence, Orzel says he gets occasional angry emails denouncing core principles of quantum physics like the particle nature of light or the wave nature of matter.
“These people are mostly working on the misconception - fed by a lot of pop-physics writing - that the weird stuff can be pushed off into some ‘quantum realm’ without affecting the ordinary physics that makes sense to people,” Orzel said.
But objects as simple as toaster ovens and alarm clocks rely on quantum physics in very deep ways.
“The first quantum model was proposed to explain the red glow of a hot object, like the heating element I use to make toast, and the modern definition of time is based on quantum ideas,” Orzel said. “Everything around us depends in one way or another on quantum physics, and even the weird parts of the theory are essential for understanding how ordinary objects work.”
Two years ago, Orzel was selected to speak at TED@NYC, an audition for the main TED conference. Though he ultimately wasn’t chosen for the featured event in Vancouver, his clever, six-minute talk on how the historical process of discovering quantum physics can be compared to working a crossword puzzle simplified a difficult subject.
That approach also worked in his books, “How to Teach Physics to Your Dog,” “How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog” and” Eureka: Discovering Your Inner Scientist.”
His goal is simple for the Ted talk:
“I want to help people see how exotic physics is thoroughly embedded in the nature of reality and that it's not some disposable bit of trivia.”
There will also be a live stream available at this site.