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How to Teach Physics to Your Dog Hardcover – December 22, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

What do dog treats and chasing squirrels have to do with quantum mechanics? Much more than you might imagine, as Orzel explains in this fun introduction to modern physics based on a series of conversations with his dog Emmy. Dogs make the perfect sounding board for physics talk, because they approach the world with fewer preconceptions than humans, and always expect the unexpected. Physicist Orzel begins with the basics, explaining how light can be both particle and wave simultaneously—a bit like a dog that can split itself into two to chase a rabbit no matter which direction it runs. A look at Heisenberg's uncertainty principle begins with a hunt for a hypothetical bone. Schrödinger's cat becomes, of course, Schrödinger's dog. Quantum entanglement, quantum teleportation and virtual particles (composed, for example, of bunny-antibunny pairs) are all explained with the author's characteristic lighthearted touch. While Orzel's presentation may be a bit too precious for some, readers who've shied away from popular treatments of physics in the past may find his cheerful discussion a real treat. (Dec.)
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From Booklist

Particle physicist Orzel has a smart and energetic German shepherd-mix, Emmy, who’s interested in what he does for a living that keeps her in treats and kibble. So she asks him about it, and he tells her, with plenty of chaseable bunnies and squirrels illustratively standing-in for photons, electrons, and other particles. He cheerfully and uncommonly clearly explains particle-wave duality; Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle (and the popular-media misuse of it); photon superposition and polarization; wave-function collapse and Bohr’s strict discrimination between quantum and classical physics; the many-worlds view of quantum mechanics that defies wave-function collapse; the quantum Zeno effect; quantum tunneling (right through “solid” barriers); entanglement and how it enables teleportation (at the quantum scale, that is); virtual particles and quantum electrodynamics; and the fraudulence of quantum-mechanics-exploiting “free energy” and healing schemes. Emmy’s attempts to apply her new knowledge practically (to catch squirrels and bunnies) keeps the conversation moving. It’s hard to imagine a better way for the mathematically and scientifically challenged, in particular, to grasp basic quantum physics. --Ray Olson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (December 22, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416572287
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416572282
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #188,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chad Orzel is a professor, blogger, and author of popular-audience books about physics. He has a BA in Physics from Williams College and a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics from the University of Maryland, College Park, where he did his thesis research in the laboratory of William D. Phillips (1997 Nobel laureate in Physics) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, studying collisions between laser-cooled xenon atoms less than a millionth of a degree above absolute zero. He then spent two years as a post-doc at Yale University in the group of Mark Kasevich, studying quantum effects in a Bose-Einstein Condensate. In 2001 he joined the faculty of Union College in Schenectady, NY, where he is now an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. Since 2002 he has run the physics weblog Uncertain Principles ( ), now part of the ScienceBlogs network. He lives in Niskayuna, NY with his wife, Kate Nepveu, their two children, and Emmy, the Queen of Niskayuna.

Customer Reviews

I found myself reading sections several times over to get the most out of it.
Patrick Regan
Books like this one give me enough mental fuel to stretch my imagination when pondering the natural world around me as well as existing and future technology.
A. D. Lum
Chad Orzel writes a very clear, readable book using his dog Emmy to explain the physics of quantum mechanics.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

134 of 135 people found the following review helpful By Two kids mom TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 25, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First let me say that I have a degree in physics and in education. I may not be the typical reader but I think I can provide a reasonable review of this book.

The book is a very clear and well delineated explanation of the basics of quantum mechanics. Orzel provides the relevant background needed to understand each section along with a historical outline of how the physics developed. His teaching is lucid and straightforward (think Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov). The examples and questions are provided outlined in a tongue in cheek manner as discussions with his dog. I am somewhat torn about the verbiage relating to his dog, it is sometimes funny, but can also be distracting. I think in the classroom the humor would come across more consistently. It does add a level of absurdity to the book, and if quantum mechanics is anything, it is sometimes quite absurd to those of us living our daily lives in a classical world.

I also laughed out loud many times while reading the chapter on debunking the snake oil salesmen who try to use various garbled versions of quantum mechanics to explain how their gizmos can provide "free energy" or "improve your health". I have had a lot of conversations with people about these contraptions (and those Amish space heaters advertized in the paper all the time, but that is another issue).

The historical perspective in each section is excellent, specifically the development of wave/particle duality and the Copenhagen interpretation. Orzel's presentation of the manner in which theories are developed and tested is superb. For students this is may be eye opening, many of them seem to believe that science develops in a linear and straightforward manner and the examples presented by Orzel show the more convoluted path often taken.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Writing a book about physics for laymen can always be a difficult task. I have read more than I can count. Books can either be too technical and unapproachable to be of interest to the lay person, or they can be so silly and irrelevant that not enough meaty information is contained within. As a background on myself, I am an engineer by training, and as a wise man on Magrathea once said, "I am a great fan of science."

The book itself is geared towards somebody with a decent knowledge of physics and math, but not necessarily quantum mechanics. I would say high-school level should be fine, but then again, with what passes for high school education, it's possible that it could be beyond some people (some may have issue with words like exponential). The reader should note that the book is really "How to Teach Quantum Mechanics To Your Dog" as Physics in general is not covered (and it even avoids relativity). This is not a negative, but just an FYI.

Overall, excellent book---I probably picked up something new in every chapter. Some of the science was familiar, though I was not aware of all the players and fun stories involved. For the science I knew, I appreciated having a good way to explain it to friends and family. As the book progressed, I discovered new things about quantum mechanics which I did not know.

You'll learn about how the most often referenced piece of quantum mechanics (Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle) is also the most misunderstood. You'll also learn not only about Schrodinger's Cat, but also his many women (who knew physicists were like that?).
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Unity Dienes on January 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
My 11 year old son is nuts about physics, so I got this book to see how it would go over with him. It did, perfectly. The whole ruse of explaining physics to a dog was hilarious to him and really made concrete some of the things that the author was trying to explain. I had my son explaining to me, laughing, how a dog could walk through a tree if he went slowly enough (with all the physics behind that crazy statement) and then hilariously illustrating what would happen if the dog didn't go quite slow enough. (He'd bonk his head). You'd think he was recounting a Calvin and Hobbes joke. The entire time my son was reading this he kept coming to me with, "did you know..." and "wow! I never realized that" epiphanies. He did say that some of the stuff being explained was really hard, although he jumped to the author's defense saying that he thinks it's not that he did a bad job explaining it, it's just that some of it was, well, tough.

I am very pleased with this book and am so glad I selected it for my son. It seems to be a great choice for an intelligent person without much real physics background who wants to learn about the material.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on January 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Chad Orzel has come up with an interesting way to teach quantum physics - by using scenarios from the real world. He does this specifically by having conversations with his dog, Emmy, about how she'd like to catch those fast bunnies and squirrels in the back yard, or live in a universe where Chad always drops steak on the floor. It helps to make a difficult-to-understand subject a little more applicable to what we see, and the little discussions he has with the dog are used very well to clear up the ideas he's discussed and I found many of my own questions answered that way.

My beef with the book is that it wasn't clear this was about quantum physics. Mr. Orzel is not really writing for the lay person as much as he's writing for someone who already has a decent understanding about classical physics. My high school physics class was a long time ago and I didn't understand it very well even then. But it's still a subject I wish I could understand better now, but it doesn't seem to come as easily as it does for some others. Nonetheless, I can say that I now understand *some* things about quantum physics a little better.
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