Rarely has Stephon Alexander ever come across an interesting subject or important issue that he felt didn't require a bit more attention.
"I was very inquisitive and curious as a kid, and I questioned everything," said Alexander, a physicist, musician and author who will speak at 8 p.m. Thursday as part of the Science Talk Series at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. " If I saw something and didn't understand it, I questioned it and looked more into it."
Alexander's presentation Thursday is called "The Jazz of Physics," which is also the name of his book published in April of 2016.
"I started thinking about writing a book six years ago and it was kind of an absurd thought," said Alexander, who is on the faculty at Brown University in Rhode Island. "Then I realized it was something I had to do. I needed to clarify some of the things I was thinking about and the writing process really helped me do that.
"Writing is one of the hardest things you can do and I really respect anyone who does it," continued Alexander. "For me writing the book was part of my discovery process. I was looking into the connection between music and physics, and writing the book helped me really dig into the subject. There weren't any books that went as deep into the subject as I did."
Alexander was born in Trinidad and moved to the Bronx with his family when he was 8. One of five children, his father was a cab driver and his mother a nurse.
"I am the only academic in the family and the first one to go to university," said Alexander, who after graduating from De Witt Clinton High School went to Haverford College went on to get a doctorate from Brown in 2000. "I grew up in a time when people in my situation had low expectations. But I was so curious about so many things, and I loved reading the Marvel Comics. I was into science fiction."
While academics weren't a huge part of Alexander's life as a young boy, music was.
"It's always been a big part of my life," he said. "Physics, the cosmos, may come first now, but music has remained a close second and was always in my life. We always listened to different types of music in the house. My grandmother took me to piano lessons when I was 8, and my father brought home a saxophone when I was 12."
The intersection of physics and jazz came easily and naturally for Alexander.
"For me both things speak to each other," he said. "My music compliments my interest in physics. If I need a break from doing research and just pick up my saxophone and go play. When I'm done, I'm ready to engage in my research again. And it works vice versa, too."
Alexander's Wikipedia page lists him as a "theoretical physicist, cosmologist, musician and author," and it also refers to him as a "first generation advocate."
"I'm not sure who put that in there, but yeah, I've been doing that," he said. "I place a lot of value on helping people who might not traditionally think about college or getting into the sciences; people who are underrepresented or come from a low income family. I pay special attention to that in my teaching, and I also think about it when I talk publicly about physics. I get paid to speak about the cosmos, and I love it, but it's a challenge to do it in a coherent way so people can understand you without watering down the material."
The Science Talk Series is part of the "Out of This World Festival: An Exploration of Art & Cosmos." It is held on the main stage of SPAC's amphitheater.
'The Jazz of Physics'
WHAT: A lecture by physicist/musician Stephon Alexander
WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, main stage.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: www.spac.org