Feeds

Texas Higgs hunters mourn the particle that got away

The Superconducting Super Collider that never was

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Now that the elusive Higgs boson has, for all intents and purposes, been goosed into existence, the scientific world is popping champagne corks, lifting pints, and otherwise celebrating CERN's apparent success.

Well, almost all of the scientific world. Deep in the heart of Texas, a small group of dispirited particle physicists are not hoisting celebratory suds – they're crying in their beers, lamenting the particle that got away.

The Higgs boson was supposed to be theirs, but congressional budget hawks snatched it away when they canceled the US Superconducting Super Collider project in 1993, despite the fact that construction was already well underway.

"Our feelings as American physicists about this great discovery at CERN have to be a little bittersweet," University of Texas theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg told Austin's KUT radio. "This is a discovery that could have been and should have been made in America."

Abandoned Superconducting Super Collider buildings in Waxahachie, Texas

The grass grows high around the abandoned buildings of the Superconducting Super Collider

The SSC was planned to include a 54-mile accelerator ring encircling the tidy town of Waxahachie – the "Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas" – that would have been able to generate three times the energy of which CERN is currently capable. Construction began in 1991, but after $2 billion and 15 miles of tunnel digging, the US Congress changed its mind and shut the project down.

Weinberg recalls a debate he had with a US Congressman on the Larry King show back in the day. "And he said he wasn't against science, he just thought we ought to set priorities," Weinberg reminisces. "And I said 'well that's fine, I agree with that. The super collider would help us learn the laws of nature. Doesn't that deserve a high priority?' And he said 'no'."

And that was that. Not only did the US miss its chance to be first to the Higgs, more importantly the world missed its chance to not only achieve the milestone that CERN has just achieved quite a bit earlier, but also to reap the scientific benefits of an instrument three times more powerful than today's best.

To be fair, in 1987 the SSC was projected to cost around $4.4bn, but by the time the Congressional axe fell, that price tag had ballooned to $12bn – and who knows exactly what the final figure might have been.

Today, the SSC site remains, abandoned and empty on the Texas plains south of Dallas–Fort Worth. This January a Waxahachie chemical company, Magnablend, bought the site, and plans to use the buildings that have sat there unoccupied for 20 years.

Those 15 miles of tunnels, however, will remain unused, an underground monument to America's fading commitment to pure science. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.