Grand Unified Theory of Dance Competition Medals

Shortly after they colonized Earth and devised the Theory Of How To Sort Laundry Without Anyone You Happen To Be Married To Getting On Your Case, Quantum Physicists busily set about trying to devise a Grand Unified Theory (GUT) which would merge the electromagnetic, weak and strong interactions into one single force.  The notion behind this was that if the GUT could then be coupled with the gravitational interaction (aka gravity), this would  produce a Theory Of Everything or TOE for short.  These two acronyms could then be rearranged into another acronym: GET OUT, as in: “Get Outta this galaxy!  That is one badass theory.”

richard feynman standing in front of a blackboard
Quantum Physicist Richard Feynman with a somewhat different haircut than the one he had in the photo on his Los Alamos ID card

But decades later, the TOE still eludes them.

What happened?  Well unfortunately, along with a large number of regular human beings, the Quantum Physicists got sidetracked once their kids started taking dance classes.

Anybody whose has kids in dance knows that it’s a cutthroat and hectic business come competition season.  Your kid might be in as many as six different dance competitions throughout the months of April, May and possibly part of June.  And if you have more than one kid in dance, the complexity of driving them all over the place and watching all the various dance numbers rapidly becomes overwhelming.  Even to Quantum Physicists.

densely packed handwritten quantum physics equations
Typical logistics planning for dance competition season

Then there are the awards.  Each competition seems to have a different hierarchy of medals that are handed out.  To save time, I’m just going to focus on the medals for the highest awards.  In one competition, first place would be a Gold medal.  Makes sense, right?  Gold was probably good enough for the Greeks when the Olympic Games started 2,784 years ago.  And it’s still used for first place in today’s Olympics.

picture of a gold medal for a dance competition award hanging on a ribbon

But in another competition, the highest award might be Platinum.  And in yet another one, Titanium is the highest award.  It’s so confusing, especially when you start looking  at the Periodic Table.

colorful periodic table

Recall that the Periodic Table organizes the elements into rows and columns according to the structure and size of the atoms.  The atomic number reflects the size of the nucleus: bigger atomic number, bigger nucleus.  Simple, right?  So there’s no way that Titanium, coming in way down at atomic number 22,  should take precedence over Platinum (atomic number 78) or Gold (atomic number 79).

That’s my point.  See how easily I got sucked in?  The same thing happened to the Quantum Physicists!  They spent too much time trying to figure out the transportation schedules for dance competition season.  And when they got done with that, they started trying to devise a Grand Unified Theory of Hierarchification of Dance Medals.  So they forgot all about the TOE.

But back to Titanium et al.  You can barely give Titanium away.  It sells for like $12/kg whereas you are going to fork over almost $30,000 for a kilo of Platinum and over $40,000 for a kilo of Gold.  So again, Titanium loses on atomic number AND price.  The only thing it really has going for it is corrosion resistance and a high strength-to-density ratio.  Big deal.

I feel like Titanium should be banished from the podium.  There are lots of other elements that could take its place, like Osmium (atomic number 76) and Iridium (atomic number 77).  They’re not making as much Osmium and Iridium as they used to, so as is the case for Platinum and Gold, you and your bank account will be parting ways to the tune of $35,000 to $45,000/kg if you want to score some Osmium and Iridium.  And don’t even get me started on Rhodium. Its price can spike up to several hundred thousand dollars per kilogram.  I swear on Warren Buffet’s money clip that I’m not making that up.

And there’s always good old Ununennium (aka Eka-Francium).  Ununennium, at atomic number 119, hangs out way, way up there in the Periodic Table, on the Island of Stability, where all the Chartered Accountants first settled when they came to Earth.  (The Quantum Physicists settled in LA.)  Trouble is, it costs several billion dollars per atom, so that would make for some pretty small medals.  Plus who can pronounce it?

Dance Competition Judge: “And the High Unending Award goes to…Sorry I mean High Unununennui Award…Whoops! There I go again!  The High Underwearennium Award…Crap!  One more time.  The High Ununennium Award for Lyrical Dance goes to entry number 187 for: Badass Theory!

Audience: Wild applause and odd biphasic hooting sounds.

Really, at the end of the day, most metals (including Silver!) look similar: silvery, greyish or greyish-blue.

stack of titanium rods
Titanium rods


crystals of platinum metal
Platinum crystals








beautiful osmium crystal formation
Weird-looking thing made of pure osmium

Even Theodore Gray, author of the best-selling book The Elements would admit that most of the metallic elements look alike.  I think he even says that somewhere, maybe page 123, but don’t quote me.

photo of the cover of Theodore Gray's book: THe Elements
Don’t get me wrong.  This is an excellent book.  If you’re into Chemistry.  Not that I’m biased

So maybe I’m overthinking this whole thing.  Maybe no one besides me cares how the blazes a dance competition chooses to name its medals.  The kids in dance work darned hard.  They deserve those awards no matter what they’re called.

The Quantum Physicists need to get back to work devising a TOE.  I obviously need to get a life. And I will, as soon as I check whether hierarchification is even a word.  I feel like it should be.

Next column: Robot successfully performs one of the hardest human tasks





Dave Barry fan and Medical Director at Rocky Mountain Analytical

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