Tag Archives: Madame Curie

From particle physics to parts of speech

What a universe we live in.  And now we’re one step closer to understanding how it all began.

This was the big news out of CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva, for people who think about things like why matter has mass (hint: it’s not because you supersized your meal). We’re talking really big. As in the Big Bang theory of our existence.

It’s a Higgs boson or at least looks like a Higgs boson to be scientifically accurate. It’s the key building block to, well, everything – what the universe is made of and how it works. Rebecca Boyle’s blog in POPSCI simply explains this discovery so we all can get “Higgsy” with it.

ATLAS Experiment © 2012 CERN

I love science. In seventh grade I aspired to become the next Madame Curie, complete with a lab in the basement of my family’s home in Germany. My dad, a Major in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Frankfurt to continue his quest to help save the world. I had ideas of doing something for the universe. Not unlike my life as a fourth grader when I made a Paper Mache solar system. There was space to explore even if the gravitational force caused Jupiter to drop from my bedroom ceiling and roll across the carpet.

And then I discovered a power very different from gravity or proton smashing. It was the power of words. Literature class. Tenth grade. Words could move, dance, provoke thought. They gained mass and power as the sticky surface of creative thinking pulled them together into paragraphs and chapters. A literary boson field.

I left my gumdrop DNA model and headed to the language laboratory to diagram sentences and better understand what makes them work. I discovered Strunk & White’s The Elements of Style a little book with a big lesson in writing.

The Elements of Style is emphatic. Write with vigor. Use active voice. Create sentences that are vivid, specific and concrete.

Consider Strunk’s Rule 17: Omit needless words. “Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.”

White refers to rule 17 as “sixty-three words that could change the world.”

In 2011 TIME magazine named The Elements of Style one of the 100 best and most influential nonfiction books written in English since 1923 (the year TIME began). My yellowed, dog-eared copy has followed me from newsrooms to my office at Franco – a loyal golden word retriever. TIME’s 100 list also included A Brief History in Time by physicist Stephen Hawking.

How perfect – parts of speech honored alongside particle physics.

Both world changers.

Do you have a favorite proton or pronoun? Particle or participle?

Maria Leonhauser is president of Franco Public Relations Group. She can be reached at leonhauser@franco.com. Connect with Franco PR Group on Facebook and Twitter @FrancoPRGroup.