Supercollider faces budget barrier

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Author: Mark Crawford
Date: Apr. 17, 1987
From: Science(Vol. 236)
Publisher: American Association for the Advancement of Science
Document Type: Article
Length: 2,081 words

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Supercollider Faces Budget Barrier

THE speaker of the House of Representatives, James Wright, Jr. (D-TX), was in West Virginia for a Democratic strategy meeting on 30 January when he got the news from a reporter that President Reagan was proposing to build the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). He was surprised. "A super what? . . . You mean they want to spend $4 billion to build a tunnel that's 52 miles around.' By now there is not a member of Congress or a state governor who does not have at least a rudimentary idea of what the SSC is--and of the economic lift it could give their respective states.

In fact, if hearings held 7-9 April by House and Senate committees are any indicator, the SSC's scientific mission has been upstaged to an extent by the gold-rush atmosphere that permeates deliberations on whether to go forward with the particle accelerator. The construction project alone will employ as many as 4500 people during the 8 years it takes to build the supercollider. The resulting research complex will cost an estimated $270 million annually to operate, and provide about 2500 permanent jobs.

The purpose of the 40-trillion-electron-volt (TeV) proton-proton particle collider is to enable physicists to better understand the properties of fundamental particles--quarks and leptons--and the forces that affect them. In particular, researchers hope to close gaps in the Standard Model of high energy physics, and to structure broader theories. Collisions produced in racetrack-shaped SSC would be 20 times stronger than those produced in the 1.8 TeV accelerator at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Illinois. These more intense collisions of subatomic particles, says theorist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas, are needed to open new windows on the structure of matter.

Project advocates also argue that without the SSC, the United States will be overtaken in time by the Europeans, Japanese, and Soviets as existing U.S. facilities become outdated. While Fermilab currently has the world's most powerful accelerator, the 14 member states of the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) are considering building an accelerator to produce collisions with energies of 17 TeV (Science, 27 March, p. 1567). Fermilab Director Leon Lederman, citing the long-term benefits to industry, said, "I think it is very important that we be among the world's leaders in this area.'

Not surprisingly, the members of Congress, governors, and other state officials testifying before the House Science, Space and Technology Committee hailed the SSC as an essential undertaking. The competition between the states hoping to land the project is stirring up support for the new accelerator in industry and at the local level.

In Ohio, for example, everyone from primary school superintendants to the state legislature has been included in that state's drive to capture the SSC. DOE officials estimate that as many as 30 states could submit site proposals on the particle collider. The project is so important to Illinois, which could see Fermilab eventually shut down if the SSC is located elsewhere, that the governor...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A4790629