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Chad and Emmy: A Love Story (Relatively Speaking)



Having mastered the basics of physics, Emmy, the German shepherd mix and beloved companion of professor Chad Orzel, is ready to tackle another complex subject: Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Orzel, an associate professor of physics, is back with a new book, How to Teach Relativity to Your Dog, in which he again tries to simplify a difficult subject matter in a way that even a canine can understand. The book is a follow-up to Orzel’s well-received How to Teach Physics to Your Dog, which introduced the world to the brainy 10-year-old mutt.

In the 336-page tome, readers again are treated to conversations between Orzel and Emmy as the pooch catches bunnies, chases squirrels and goes for long walks. All the while, Orzel sprinkles in lessons on relativity as an abiding Emmy soaks it up.

Early reviews have been positive, with Publishers Weekly calling Relativity “[A] compact and instructive walk through Einstein’s theory of relativity. . . . [T]he prose is breezy and straightforward, and the material well organized. . . . Relativity constantly amazes, and the glimpses of understanding provide rewarding and satisfying moments.”

Orzel will appear at a book signing at the Open Door on Jay Street in Schenectady Saturday, March 10, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Do you think you accomplished what you set out to do the first time around?

I was really pleased with the reception of the first one. We've gotten some great mail from readers, and the things people say about it in online reviews are great. We've had parents say things like "My 13-year-old loves it, and quotes bits at the dinner table,"
and that's tremendously gratifying. You know you've gotten through at that point.

It's also been translated into different languages - Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, Korean, Turkish, German, Italian, Czech and Polish, with a few more to come. The UK edition really took off - just a week or so ago, somebody sent me a picture of it on a bestseller rack in Heathrow, at #55, just ahead of Confessions of a London Call Girl.

Why a sequel?

The first book was about quantum mechanics, which is one of the two great theories of “modern physics,” dealing with the very strange behavior of microscopic objects like electrons, atoms and molecules. Having done that, it seemed natural to go on to the other great theory, Einstein's relativity. This theory deals with the behavior of objects that are moving very fast (close to the speed of light), or are big enough to produce large gravitational effects. The predictions of relativity (the slowing of time for fast-moving observers, the bending of light by gravity, black holes) also seem very strange compared to the physics of everyday objects, but relativity is a central, inescapable part of modern physics, and its predictions have been verified by countless experiments.

Einstein's great achievement was showing that once you understand that physics has to look the same to somebody who's moving at high speed or falling under the influence of gravity as it does to somebody who's standing still, all the "weird" stuff follows directly and logically. He showed that as strange as it seems, relativity is inevitable, using a chain of reasoning that even a dog can follow.

So it was a natural to run that reasoning by the dog, and do a second book, where we can hopefully convince a few human readers that relativity is pretty amazing. We try to keep things grounded, using canine-friendly examples, and talking about the many experiments that show absolutely and unequivocally that all this strange stuff is true.

How has Emmy handled success?

When we adopted Emmy from the Mohawk-Hudson Humane Society in 2003, her original owners had named her Princess. We didn't think that sounded right for a raggedy German Shepherd mix, so we changed it. We realized later that the "Princess" title was less about looks than attitude. She's always been very pleased with herself, so we think she regarded the name change as a promotion. Now she's Emmy, Queen of Niskayuna. (And @queen_emmy on Twitter...)

You recently welcomed a new addition to the family, David. He joins his big sister, Claire. Does he understand relativity?

He's not much of a reader, yet, though he did drool on a copy.