Small is not the same for one and all

Jefferson Lab in Newport News is studying the role of "strange" quarks, one variety of the tiny particles that make up the protons and the neutrons of the nuclei of atoms.

There is one thing you'd think everyone could agree on,
You and me and Regis Philbin
And the members of our armed services, one and all,
And that is the definition of "small."

For I know you won't think me weird or ditzy,
When I say small things are things that are well, itsy-bitsy.
"Small" defines those tiny bits of grit that get in your eye and make it all teary, though you can barely see 'em;
Likewise those chiggers, which are the littlest red specks imaginable but still make you itch until you scream.
Also the little tail on a dot of punctuation that turns a period into a comma (not that period, was to begin with, particularly huge or swollen).
And makes a semi-colon out of a colon.
Yes, these are things that we'd all call small,
Me and you and Commissioner of Baseball
Bud Selig, and every delegate to the Republican National Convention,
And yet there is some dissention.

It seems some people would find that definition incongruous,
For to them, eyeball grit and chiggers and punctuation marks are, relatively speaking, absolutely humongruous.
And if you would meet these people, take a cab
To Jefferson Lab.
For there they study particle physics, which is physics about particles
That are the subject of hard-to-understand scientific articles,
And which further more are so tiny
A chigger wouldn't notice one of them if it hit the chigger in the hiney.

Surely you know, if you were taught in one of our better schools,
That most of our stuff is made up of tiny bits of stuff called molecules.
And you further know, if your education was not entirely theological but at least partly secular,
That even tinier bits called atoms make up the bits that are molecular.
Now, this is plenty small enough for most people, to deal with atoms whole,
But your particle physicists are just getting ready to rock and roll.
They looked inside the atom and found it had protons, and also couple of rons, both neut- and elect-,
And then they found still more to dissect.
So they sliced open protons and neutrons, and then cried "Hark!
We have found a quark!"
And then in the kind of discovery every scientist savors,
They found that quarks come in different flavors.
For quarks can be up, down, strange, charm, bottom or top,
And it's the strange quark the Jefferson Lab folks will try to make wiggle and hop.
Yet how they tell which ones are strange is a mystery,
For, frankly, they all sound strange to me.

But when they've studied that quark 'til it's no longer stranger; they will go questing on,
For scientists are not people who think that laurels are for resting on.
Ill bet they'll find still tinier bits tucked inside the quark's creases,
And then still tinier pieces of the quark's pieces.
And so on, until they find the eensy teeny weensy small,
It's not really there at all.
Which leaves one great unanswered question, you dig:
How are you going to define "big"?

— Tony Gabriele can be reached at 247-4786 or by e-mail at