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‘The God Particle’ and America’s Supercollider

By Seth Love

With laymen and scientists abuzz over the hopeful discovery of the ‘Higgs Boson’, or more commonly termed ‘The God Particle’, one would wonder how it has shaped our past, and perhaps more importantly and with less certainty, our future. Now, although this is a stupendous discovery for the scientific community, the American community of science should feel rather rash; for, as most U.S. citizens probably do not know, our country was in the process of building our own Supercollider (like the one used in Geneva, Switzerland—the one which has pinpointed what could be ‘The God Particle’).

The superconducting supercollider (SSC), which was in the middle of its construction in 1993, was being built near Waxahachie, Texas. It was originally envisioned in 1983, but construction did not start until 1987.  Nicknamed the Desertron, this SSC would have exceeded the energy output of the current Large Hadron Collider in Geneva by about five times. Furthermore, with a planned circumference of nearly 90 km, anyone could image how much quicker, let alone stronger, this collider could have been compared to the collider in Geneva we now have.

So, why did construction of the United States supercollider cease? As with any major government building endeavor, money (or the lack thereof) rests at the center of the problem. In 1987, when construction began, Congress received information that the collider could be completed for about $4.4 billion; however, in 1993—when construction stopped—it was predicted that the costs would exceed $12 billion. Upon discussion of how to handle this situation, congress agreed that our country could only afford either NASA or the SSC. Thus, they pulled the plug after nearly $2 billion tax-dollars spent. This only happened after some very effective convincing from Department of Energy that the supercollider was a waste of time and resources—and it was, compared to the LHC, which had used a pre-existing infrastructure and magnetics to make the LHC more efficient and ergonomic, in the end only costing about 5 billion American dollars.

Yet, the question to ask is ‘what makes our government think that if we start building superconducting supercollider from scratch—something five times the energy output of the LHC, and nearly five times the size as well—that it would not be expensive? Yes, at the time of the SSC’s construction the LHC in Geneva had not even begun yet, but still in average person would think that groundbreaking science would cost a lot more money than originally thought. And, furthermore, now with the cancellation of NASA nearly being two years in the making, how can the reasoning back in 1993 be justified for today? There are no real answers to these questions. But there is a question that I think we could answer—a question about a community of Americans, and a question about the future of science as we know it. Namely that, how would the scientific and educational societies present within the United States today benefit from such prodigious intellectual wealth that the SSC, and of course the LHC, represent? It is a simple answer, I think: enormously.

Imagine how east Texas could have become an intellectual hotspot: yes, of course for the traditional hard scientists (physicists, astronomers, chemists, etc.), but also for the minds of the softer kind, the storytellers and the like. Now, I am not saying that the LHC in Geneva does not benefit all of mankind, for I know it does; however, I am saying, on a country-level, the United States of America may have not found itself in such dire straits concerning the future of American production and self-sustainability (as we continuously talk about today), if our government had not been so hasty to predict a future that no one could see.

Perhaps the competition for technology with Russia had gotten to our heads—and, the irony being, competition gets us relatively nowhere in science, whereas cooperation does: as can be seen from the myriad of scientists from around that globe that have participated and continue to partake in LHC’s monumental discovery.

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