Chad Orzel is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. He has been at Union since 2001, which he says makes him feel really old. He's also the director of Undergraduate Research, which involves "sending way too many emails." In addition to teaching and research, he writes books about science for non-scientists. His first book, "How to Teach [Quantum] Physics to Your Dog," explains modern physics through imaginary conversations with his German shepherd, Emmy, and his most recent book, "Breakfast with Einstein: The Exotic Physics of Everyday Objects," explains how quantum physics shows up in the course of ordinary morning activities. His next book (due in January 2022) is "A Brief History of Timekeeping," which is based in part on an SRS he's taught at Union. He's maintained some semblance of sanity during the pandemic by skiing, biking and shooting hoops alone on an outdoor court, and he looks forward to this all being over so he can go back to playing pick-up basketball in the Viniar Center at lunchtime. He lives in Niskayuna with his wife, Kate Nepveu, their two children and their new(ish) dog, Charlie the pupper.
FIRST APP YOU LOOK AT IN THE MORNING:
Twitter, alas. My partial excuse for this is that since the pandemic started, my nine-year-old has started getting up very early, and will explode out of bed as soon as he hears me moving around. So if I wake up before 5:30 a.m., I stay in bed as long as I can manage, and Twitter is the best time-sink app I have.
ONE BOOK YOU HAVE READ MULTIPLE TIMES:
I feel like I ought to say something super heavy and intellectual here, but at the risk of branding myself a lightweight, I’ll admit that the book I re-read most recently was “The Face in the Frost” by John Bellairs. It’s a very short fantasy novel that somehow manages to be both genuinely creepy and charmingly lighthearted at the same time. It starts out, “Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn't matter, there was a tall, skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either,” which kind of gives you the basic tone.
BEST ADVICE YOU EVER RECEIVED:
The best teaching-related advice I ever got was, “Don’t assume that your students are like you were when you were a student.” This is an important reminder that the vast majority of students will not eventually become professors, and thus those of us who do are not a representative sample. In order to end up as a professional academic, you need to be fascinated and motivated by your subject of study to a degree that’s honestly pretty rare, and if you go into a random intro class expecting every student to feel that same way, none of you will enjoy the term.
FAVORITE SPOT ON CAMPUS:
This is a more difficult question than you might think - because we just knocked down the building where my office was for 19 years, and I had barely three months in the new digs before the pandemic chased us out. I’ll say that the space I’ve missed being in the most during this plague is the Viniar Athletic Center courts for pick-up basketball at lunchtime.
There is a brief and glorious window every fall when good cider donuts are readily available in stores, starting in late September and ending around Thanksgiving, and that’s my favorite breakfast routine.
NETFLIX or AMAZON:
Depends on which has released a new season most recently, “The Expanse or Stranger Things.”
I’m a big fan of The Press Box on the Ringer podcast network, which features Bryan Curtis and David Shoemaker on media and politics. I also really like the Five Thirty Eight Politics, though the loss of Clare Malone is going to hurt them.
ONE SKILL YOU WISH YOU HAD:
I wish I had at some point learned to play either guitar or piano. A skill I wish I still had is being able to dunk a basketball, but that was 12 years and 40 pounds ago.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR PANDEMIC DIVERSION/ACCOMPLISHMENT:
I’ve done a lot of biking. It started as just obligatory exercise, but to my great surprise I have turned into the sort of person who says things like, “Well, there are thunderstorms in the forecast, but I can probably sneak in a quick 10 miles before they get here…”
For a negative accomplishment, it’s not much short of miraculous that we’ve been social distancing for nearly 10 months, and I still haven’t started a podcast.
ANOTHER SUBJECT YOU WISH YOU COULD TEACH:
I’ve been very lucky in getting to teach a lot of different stuff - the book I just finished writing (“A Brief History of Timekeeping,” due out in January 2022) is based on an SRS that I’ve taught a few times. The one course idea I’ve kicked around but never been able to offer is “Science of Sports and Games” as a Gen Ed science with lab, which I think could be a lot of fun.
MOST CREATIVE EXCUSE YOU HEARD FOR A LATE ASSIGNMENT:
I am widely known as a soft touch, so I don’t get a lot of creative excuses. My all-time favorite student story is the guy who came into the last-day-of-class review session with a box of doughnuts - but left when I stepped out to get something from my office. On the front desk, he left a chocolate-frosted doughnut (with sprinkles!) and a note saying “I’m sorry, but I can’t stay for class; my brain is full. Please accept this doughnut.”