Is Quantum Mechanics the Answer to Our Problems? Macaulay’s Dr. Emily Rice Dives Into How Quantum Phenomena Helps Manage Her Complex Identity

Dr. Emily Rice, an Associate Professor of Astrophysics at the Macaulay Honors College of CUNY and resident research associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), is one of the keynote speakers at the TEDxCUNY conference held on March 10, 2023. 

Dr. Rice is extremely involved in the scientific community through her role as a researcher and professor. Dr. Rice co-founded the research group Brown Dwarfs in New York City (BDNYC) with Dr. Kelle Cruz from CUNY Hunter College and Dr. Jackie Faherty from AMNH. Brown Dwarfs are objects that have masses between giant exoplanets and low mass stars. Dr. Rice explained there was a lot about Brown Dwarfs that scientists were yet to explore and understand. 

“The three of us started this research group following a small project we had collaborated on,” Dr. Rice said. In 2010, Dr. Cruz had started their work with Hunter College, Dr. Rice was wrapping up her postdoctoral work, and Dr. Faherty was finishing up graduate school. “We all happened to be in New York City at the time, and we were all working with Brown Dwarfs, so we decided to create a research group focused on these substellar objects,” Dr. Rice remarked. 

Outside of her technical work, she also is passionate about furthering the general public’s knowledge about science. “I think it all started with one of my part-time jobs I got when I was an undergraduate. I had the opportunity to work at a planetarium and I loved it! I really enjoyed learning how to manage the software, giving talks, and answering questions,” Dr. Rice recalled. 

“Now that I think about it, I think working at the planetarium propelled my decision to pursue graduate school,” stated Dr. Rice, who went on to pursue graduate studies at UCLA in part due to their student-led planetarium. 

Dr. Rice’s motivation stems from her interactions with members of the public during her presentations at the Hayden planetarium. She stated, “I have always loved teaching and talking about my work. But, after I had my children, I really wanted to teach them about my work. I really love explaining my work and scientific phenomena to them, and I want all children to learn about this.” 

Her passion for bringing science to the public eye does not stop there. Dr. Rice is also a fashion enthusiast. She co-founded STARtorialist, a blog first created to explain the scientific inaccuracies in clothing. “One of the first posts we had was about galaxy leggings. So many people were getting galaxy leggings, but we explained in our blog that they weren’t galaxies – instead they were often nebulae,” said Dr. Rice. 

The blog was extremely successful and eventually became a wholesale clothing line. STARtorialist went online in 2020 during the height of the COVID pandemic. Dr. Rice explained that during the initial stages of the clothing line, she worried that she was straying from her initial path as a scientist. However, Dr. Rice’s teaching and passion projects have only augmented her scientific work. “I love being able to sit down with new research data or photos and see how I can work that into a new dress. I’m doing everything I didn’t realize I could do now. I couldn’t be happier,” said Dr. Rice. 

Dr. Rice also has produced silly science parody videos and makes media presentations. Not only does she enjoy pursuing her passion projects, but seeing her own personal growth through each of the opportunities that she has encountered only motivates her even further. 

How does Dr. Rice juggle her research with teaching and her projects? Her secret is by compartmentalizing different facets of herself. Dr. Rice talks about juggling a quantum-mechanical identity in the recent TEDxCUNY conference on March 10. Dr. Rice explained that classical mechanics is like throwing multiple balls in the air at once and trying to keep track of all of them at the same time. However, in her view, quantum mechanics is like letting the universe keep track of all the balls in motion. She stated that her understanding of quantum mechanics has alleviated a lot of her stress from juggling her various roles as a researcher, professor, mentor, fashion designer, blogger, media personality, presenter, and mother. 

“The talk mainly focuses on my struggle to see myself as a scientist and researcher. This is one of the first times I talk more about my story than about science. So, I’m both excited and nervous!” said Dr. Rice. While Dr. Rice resides within the sphere of science, she explained that, “Complex identities are something that many of us face, and I hope that my talk will instill confidence in those that struggle with maintaining their various identities.” 

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