Billions and Billions
Why do we want to understand the tiny bits?
Did you go through a phase as a kid where you were obsessed with figuring out the smallest bits of matter? Maybe it's an incipient scientific curiosity, or a general fascination with the universe, but it seems to be a phase that many kids go through.
In my group of elementary school friends, it was a badge of honor if you were able to name a smaller bit of matter than the next kid. Atoms? Psshhhh, those are just made out of smaller things called protons and electrons. Protons? Psshhh, those are just made of smaller things called quarks.
And that's where it stopped. "Quarks" were the double-dog-dare of childhood particle physics, and seemed to be the REAL basic building blocks of the universe with which we were so fascinated with.
Yet over the Christmas break my eight year-old nephew asked me if I knew what was smaller than an atom. I told him "quarks," and he said, "Psshh, quarks! Those are just made of smaller things called strings."
And that's how we know we're making progress.