With CERN's Large Hadron Collider finally coming online, watercoolers around the world will soon be abuzz with talk of Higgs bosons, gluons, and other mind-blowing subatomic thingies. How to keep track of all that quantum fluff? It's easier than you think. Fans of shows likeSurvivor, American Idol, Top Chef, or America's Next Top Model already have the tools they need to wrap their heads around the fundamental bits in our universe. Turns out, if you understand reality TV, you can understand reality.
Gluons are the Donald Trumps, Tyra Bankses, and Mark Burnetts of the subatomic world. Just as these executive producers (often doubling as onscreen overlords) dictate the rules and force contestants into tightly knit alliances for survival, gluons wield what's called the strong nuclear force, impelling quarks to clump together into the neutrons and protons of an atom's nucleus.
There are six types of quark, arbitrarily named up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange. Think of them as the personality types that make every reality show go: the gay one, the jock, the bumpkin, the minority, the brainiac, and the drunken train-wreck girl. They always form alliances (called hadrons), and, well, they work best in threesomes. Hot!
We know the Higgs boson particle must exist — it's why matter has mass. But physicists have been unable to observe it. Have folks like Kelly Clarkson found the Higgs boson of reality TV — enduring stardom? Let's hope so. Because like the real Higgs boson, if lasting fame isn't possible, the whole Theory of Everything will need to be reconsidered.
Photons carry electromagnetism, which bonds electrons to nuclei, and generally keep the excitement level up. Zooming around at the speed of light, these energetic particles hold the whole shebang together — just like Ryan Seacrest, Idol's charismatic liaison between judges, contestants, and viewers.
Many shows have a panel of regulars that sit on the sidelines and observe. This is the lepton family. Some, like electrons, matter (Tom Colicchio).Some, like muons, are overblown and unstable (Simon Cowell). Others, like neutrinos, pass through without ever making contact with reality (Paula Abdul).
W and Z bosons carry the weak nuclear force, which causes other particles to decay. These are like the parents, ex-lovers, and others who pop into a show merely to wreak havoc. Think Flavor of Love's Tiffany Pollard, aka New York, who returned in season two to terrorize anew.