April 22, 2006

The Superconducting Supercollider

Another Clinton legacy -- Damn Interesting has a nice writeup:
America's Discarded Superconducting Supercollider
Deep beneath the plains of central Texas lies a catacomb of tunnels once meant to house the most expensive physics experiment ever devised. That experiment, the Superconducting Supercollider, would have revolutionized our understanding of the physical world by giving us our first glimpse of the "God Particle." And, proposed during the Cold War, it would have been a monument to the technological and scientific prowess of the Western world.

But in 1993 after investing over $2 billion dollars into the project, President Clinton and Congress canceled it entirely. Highly sophisticated machinery and laboratories were simply sold to the highest bidder, and thousands of acres of empty land were parceled off and sold as well. All that now remains are 200,000 square feet of still-vacant factories and labs, and over 30 km of carved-rock tunnels slowly filling with water.

One of the most persistent mysteries of the Universe is why matter has mass at all. Physicists think they know the answer; a particle called the Higgs Boson, also called the "God Particle", is thought to exist that gives all other particles mass. Around this theoretical particle they constructed the glittering edifice of late-20th century physics known rather plainly as the Standard Model.

Despite its tremendous importance, the Higgs has never been observed in experiments. According to calculations, it exists in detectable form only at astoundingly high temperatures and pressures - similar to those of the first few seconds after the Big Bang. Particle accelerators smash sub-atomic scraps together to regularly recreate such conditions, but none exists powerful enough to actually see the Higgs.
Total estimated cost was to have been around $8.5B Given a US population of 298 Million, this puts the cost at about $28/per person. Considering that the construction would have taken over ten years, this puts the burden on each US citizen at less than one Espresso Coffee drink per year. This would have been amazing -- much more than the International Space Station and President Clinton killed it. Shame on you! Posted by DaveH at April 22, 2006 11:06 PM
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