This book is the product of many years of teaching a course at Vassar College on subatomic physics. The course was created specifically for students majoring in disciplines outside of the sciences and certainly outside of physics. At Vassar there is no requirement for taking a science course prior to graduation and the course grew out of my concern about science literacy. The course has been taught almost every year since 1987 with a total enrollment of over 400 students. The course is an overview of the field of particle physics, including the historical views of matter since the beginning of the 20th century. The course focuses not only on the facts but also on the process of learning about what the world is made of, including the interdependence of theory and experiment. As a final exercise in the course, the students were required to write a short story or poem with subatomic particles as the main characters. When I first assigned this project, I assumed that I would get many stories about Ernie the electron who was always so negative and Patty the proton who fell in love with him anyway. Well, I seriously underestimated the creativity and talent of Vassar students (mind I had only been teaching here for two years). The stories and poems that they wrote over the years have continued to amaze, entertain and surprise me. I have read theses stories at physics teachers meetings and shared them with my physics colleagues and friends for many years now. I finally had the time to collect the very best of them and publish them in this book. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I have and if physics is not your expertise that you learn as much as the students who wrote them.
The works are organized in three main categories. The first set of stories can certainly be enjoyed by anyone but the topics are probably not the most relevant for children. The second group of stories is primarily based on fairytales and could be appreciated by young children. The last section consists of poems. One young woman wrote a very imaginative paper this past spring consisting of newspaper ads and it is included at the end.
By the time you read the whole book you should be familiar with common particle world events like annihilation, pair production and decay, but a glossary of terms and suggestions for further reading are included just in case.