Physicists thing that they’re clever as hell.
Just look at that guy; thinks he’s got it all figured out.
(Bonus points for guessing who the physicist is!)
Now, I’m not talking about clever in the sense that they can figure stuff out. Most scientists are pretty good at that. No, what I’m talking about is “clever” in the sense of being funny.
See, physics is actually filled with little in-jokes and references that physicists think are just terribly cute, and all of them have to deal with stuff you can’t even see.
Quarks are tiny, tiny, tiny particles that, as far as we know, make up pretty much everything. Quarks, like electrons, protons, balls, cats, and street signs, have properties. Unfortunately for us, only some of these properties are ones that we’re already familiar with, like charge and mass.
So, to help characterize and classify these things, they’re broken up into types. Now, a normal person might say that there are three types of quark, and he’d be right for the most part (though I have no clue what business a normal person might have knowing things about quarks). But a physicist isn’t a normal person. They can’t have nice, simple, straightforward “types” of quarks. Instead, quarks have “flavors”.
Before you get excited, these aren’t delicious flavors either. There are 6 flavors of quarks. The first two are called “up” and “down”. Simple enough… The next two are “strange” and “charm”. Now, these are slightly weirder names. Strange quarks were named because they were exhibiting strange properties. I can’t fault them yet, but charm? Who calls a flavor of quark charm? There’s not even a reason for it! Anyway, anyway the last two went through a bit of an identity crisis for a while. At first, they were “truth” and “beauty”, because they decided it would be funny to keep with their naming scheme of non-physical concepts. But eventually the names changed to “top” and “bottom”. These names might seem oddly normal compared to strange, charm, truth, and beauty, but fear not. The name change to top and bottom wasn’t for (entirely) sane reasons. You see, occasionally, when talking about quarks in various conditions, the term “bare” comes up. And someone noted, at some point, that “bare bottom” was much funnier than “bare beauty”. Yes, anatomy jokes. That’ll totally show those literary critics that you can be witty!
Ever hear the phrase “You couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn!”? Well, you’ll be happy to know that if that phrase describes you, physicists have made it waaaaaaaaaay easier to explain yourself. Atoms are small. Really really small. Bigger than quarks, but way smaller than anything you can properly imagine. To study these things, nuclear physicists have to shoot stuff at the nuclei of these atoms. Now, a really big nucleus is about 10 femtometers across, which is about 10-14m. So, the area a really big nucleus takes up, is about 10-28m2 in area. If you’re already groaning, you’ve figured out that this area was termed a “barn”. To make it even worse, there’s an extended terminology surrounding it. So, now, thanks to some nonsensical naming conventions, you can explain how hard it would be to hit the broad side of a barn, lodge, or even a tardis.