Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy Chad Orzel delivered an end-of-the-year talk at TEDxAlbany that took an interesting look at how the quantum mechanics of physics affects the morning routine.
In his 18-minute talk, entitled “Exotic Physics of an Ordinary Morning,” Orzel prompted the audience to reconsider the perception that quantum physics is challenging to grasp and very remote from our daily experiences.
Orzel explained that even the mundane morning routine, from waking up to heating up breakfast, exhibits some of the strangest features of modern physics.
The theory of quantum physics was born by studying the light that was emitted by any hot piece of equipment and offering an explanation for why light glows at precisely the same way given a specific temperature.
Orzel explained in his talk, “Quantum physics isn’t as remote as you might think. Every time you toast a piece of bread or wait patiently for a pot of water to boil, you are staring directly at the place where it all began.”
Quantum physics is also applicable in timekeeping. Orzel explained that a second in time is defined by billions of oscillations of light emitted as an electron in a cesium atom orbits around in different configurations.
By adjusting the frequency of the atomic clock to match that of cesium, atomic clocks can maintain precision for almost a billion years without drifting off for even a single second.
The quantum physics of cesium atoms keeps our timekeeping devices in sync and is central to the regulation of time in everything that we do.
Orzel’s main message was that quantum physics does not just come into play in the confines of a particle accelerator in a physics laboratory, or in space, but rather has an applicable presence in just about everything around us.
Orzel said that this everyday application of quantum physics is a lost concept to many people, as far too many physicists overemphasize the extreme and the weird to the extent that explanations for tangible uses of quantum physics are muddled in the waters.
Orzel’s explanation of the quantum physics properties of our everyday appliances and devices is meant to elevate people’s understanding of quantum physics and the world around them.
Orzel’s ability to simplify complex topics into digestible pieces of information is seen as a key selling point for his talks.
TEDxAlbany is an independent, locally organized event operated under a license from TED that provides a similar experience to conventional TED Talk events.
In the 2015 season, TEDxAlbany showcased 10 talks that covered a variety of subjects from public health, to STEM education, to quantum physics.