The Super conducting Super Collider (often abbreviated as SSC) was a ring particle accelerator which was planned to be built in the area around Waxahachie, Texas. It was planned to have a ring circumference of 87 km (54 mi) and an energy of 20 TeV per beam, potentially enough energy to create a Higgs boson, a particle predicted by the Standard Model, but not yet detected.
During the design and the first construction stage, a heated debate ensued about the high cost of the project (the last estimate was $8.25 billion). An especially recurrent argument was the contrast with NASA's contribution to the International Space Station, which was of similar amount. Critics of the project argued that the US could not afford both of them.
The project was eventually canceled by Congress in 1993 after 22.5km (14 mi) of tunnel were already dug and 2 billion dollars spent.
Written by Anthony Kendall on 18 April 2006
The N15 shaft of the Superconducting Supercollider tunnel 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 cancelled 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.
Frustrated by this problem, physicists petitioned the Department of Energy in the early 1980s to create the most powerful particle accelerator in the world. As its name suggests, the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) was to be enormous in every single way. It would slam particles together with more than 20 times the energy of any other existing or planned device. The beam of protons and anti-protons it would produce would be 100 times ‘brighter’ than even today’s most powerful accelerators. In order to control such tremendous energies, cutting-edge superconducting magnets would bend the beam around an oval-shaped beam tunnel more than 80 km in circumference.
Superconducting Supercollider workers and their tunnel borerChoosing the site for such an enormous facility was a country-wide effort involving geological and economic studies in 43 states. Though the process was a drawn-out political affair, the final choice seems a natural one; after all, everything’s bigger in Texas! The main accelerator ring would be bored through the bedrock 200 feet beneath Waxahachie, Texas. Sleepy Waxahachie would have been completely transformed by the SSC. Labs and factories were to be built nearby to produce the superconducting magnets and provide the above-ground facilities for the SSC’s considerable staff. Literally thousands of researchers, graduate students, and technicians would have been involved in running the machine and many would have been housed there.
Construction began in 1991, and by 1993 workers had dug over 30 km of tunnels. In order to bore through the sandstone and limestone beneath Waxahachie, a 15 foot diameter tunneling machine was created that literally chewed through the bedrock. Most of the ring tunnel would be a smooth-sided tube, but the giant particle detectors required cavernous galleries that had to be blasted out of the rock.
As work progressed on both the construction of the facilities and the design of the experiments themselves, expenses and projected costs rose precipitously. By 1993 the finished cost estimate was $8.25 billion; about the same as the projected cost of the International Space Station. Facing a bloating price tag on a program associated with his predecessor, President Clinton was never fond of the SSC. Without a presidential champion the deficit-weary Congress cut funding for the SSC entirely and chose to abandon the $2 billion that had already been spent.
A portion of the Superconducting Supercollider tunnelToday the failure of the SSC project continues to cast a long shadow on the physics community. Had it been fully funded, it would have begun experiments by the late 1990s and produced results around the turn of the millennium. The capabilities it would have afforded scientists are still unmatched, even by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Switzerland which will not be fully operational for another few years.
Some say that the days of big particle accelerators may be gone for good. Though there are still a number of accelerators in operation, and others in construction and planning, none will push forward the boundaries of physics research as the SSC would have. Meanwhile, the needs of high energy physicists have only grown. The latest theories, including string theory, require accelerator energies greater than even the SSC could have produced in order to test their predictions.
The one piece of the SSC program that could not be sold or auctioned may prove to be the silver lining in this tale. After all, the Earth changes slowly – far more slowly than the whims of government-funded science. Should Congress and the President ever decide to revive the SSC, the tunnels beneath Waxahachie will be waiting.
by Nell Greenfieldboyce - www.npr.org
For some American scientists, the official start-up of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland is a bittersweet moment.
Once it becomes fully operational, this new collider will be the most powerful machine of its kind in the world. It's designed to smash protons together to reveal the basic building blocks that make up the universe.
But not too long ago, the United States could have had a machine that was even more impressive. The Superconducting Super Collider was actually under construction when Congress killed the project back in 1993, during a period of budget cutbacks.
The Superconducting Super Collider, located near the small town of Waxahachie, Texas, was going to hurl subatomic particles down a 54-mile tunnel deep beneath farmland and smash the particles together with astonishing force.
Roy Schwitters, a physicist at the University of Texas at Austin who served as director of the Superconducting Super Collider Laboratory, says that when the project got cancelled, it had a staff of about 2,000 people and had already spent $2 billion. Workers had constructed huge buildings and drilled over 14 miles of tunnel.
Schwitters returned to the abandoned site not too long ago to look around. He said it was just like a ghost town.
"I have to tell you, that was pretty depressing," he says. He recalls that the inside of a big magnet laboratory was empty, except for cartons of Styrofoam coffee cups.
"That's not a pretty picture."
Outside, the access shafts down to the tunnel were filled with dirt, like a grave, and the dirt had kind of sunk down.
"And there was sort of, you know, the usual tumbleweed or something blowing across," Schwitters says. "This was sort of a bad dream."
This would-be wonder of science did have one big moment of fame in 1999 — as a film set for a Jean-Claude Van Damme action movie. But other than that, it's pretty much just sat there, abandoned.
Over the years, various plans for the site have been proposed. People have considered using it as a jail or an anti-terrorism training facility. Two years ago, Ellis County, Texas, sold the site for a paltry $6.5 million to an investment group that hoped to turn it into a secure data storage center.
But no one's been interested.
Now Europe is firing up the Large Hadron Collider, which is three times less powerful than the Superconducting Super Collider would have been — but American physicists are still grateful to have it.
Jerome Friedman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist at MIT, says without the new collider, his field would be basically dead.
"We like to see the science advance anywhere in the world," Friedman says, "and the fact that the Europeans have taken on the responsibility of building this accelerator is a very joyful thing."
The United States did contribute hundreds of millions of dollars and critical hardware to the project in Europe. And American scientists will work there. But Friedman can't help but regret the fact that all of the students, technology and attention are shifting to Europe. He's still somewhat haunted by the ghost of the Waxahachie supercollider.
"We had been a nation of being pioneering and doing things that other people wouldn't do. And this was a case where we retreated from that," says Friedman. "And that was a very sad thing. It was not only sad for the field, but it was sad for the country. Because it said something about what we valued."
Support for particle physics has been declining in this country while it's been growing in Europe, according to Pier Oddone, director of the Department of Energy's Fermilab, also known as the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, near Chicago — the nation's premier site for this type of research.
He says Fermilab's budget is currently just a third of the budget of CERN, the European lab that is home to the new Large Hadron Collider.
"Historically, we've been quite even. But that this point, the support in the U. S. has eroded, and the support in Europe has grown," he says. "As you may imagine, if you have a third of the budget, it's a difficult thing to compete in the long term."
Fermilab's own particle collider, the Tevatron, is expected to be shut down soon, in part because the new one in Europe will make it obsolete, says Oddone.
"It is clearly a sad thing to see it end. Fermilab has been a center that has attracted a very large international community that comes to the U.S. to do their physics," says Oddone, "and a large fraction of that community will be now going to Europe."
He says Fermilab does have a center that will let American scientists monitor experiments going on at the new collider in Switzerland, so they can do work without having to go overseas.
Depending on what the Large Hadron Collider discovers, physicists are eventually going to want to construct another big machine to take the next step forward. And Oddone hasn't given up hope that this next one could be built in the U.S.
"I'm reasonably optimistic that, with the excitement that will come up with the discoveries on the LHC, that the public here will say, 'Gee, how come we are not taking the lead, we ought to be doing these things, what's the matter with us?,'" Oddone says.
Whether Congress would support construction of the world's next great physics machine remains to be seen.
But one Waxahachie town official, N.B. "Buck" Jordan, says that after his experience with the ill-fated supercollider, he has this advice for the next American town that might jump at the chance to take on the secrets of the universe: "If there was ever anything else like this that came along," Jordan says, "Get the money up front."
The Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the world's largest and highest-energy particle accelerator. It is expected that it will address the most fundamental questions of physics, advancing our understanding of the deepest laws of nature.
The LHC lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres (17 mi) in circumference, as much as 175 metres (574 ft) beneath the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva, Switzerland. This synchrotron is designed to collide opposing particle beams of either protons at an energy of 7 teraelectronvolts (1.12 microjoules) per particle, or lead nuclei at an energy of 574 TeV (92.0 µJ) per nucleus.[The term hadron refers to particles composed of quarks.
The Large Hadron Collider was built by the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the intention of testing various predictions of high-energy physics, including the existence of the hypothesized Higgs boson and of the large family of new particles predicted by supersymmetry. It is funded by and built in collaboration with over 10,000 scientists and engineers from over 100 countries as well as hundreds of universities and laboratories.
On 10 September 2008, the proton beams were successfully circulated in the main ring of the LHC for the first time,but 9 days later operations were halted due to a serious fault. On 20 November 2009 they were successfully circulated again, with the first proton–proton collisions being recorded 3 days later at the injection energy of 450 GeV per beam. After the 2009 winter shutdown, the LHC was restarted and the beam was ramped up to 3.5 TeV per beam, half its designed energy, which is planned for after its 2012 shutdown. On 30 March 2010, the first planned collisions took place between two 3.5 TeV beams, which set a new world record for the highest-energy man-made particle collisions.
What is a Superconducting Supercollider?
From BBC Home www.bbc.co.uk
The Superconducting Supercollider, or SSC for short, would have been a particle accelerator of gargantuan proportions, nicknamed the 'window on creation' for its proposed ability of recreating some of the conditions present at the time of the Big Bang itself. It was to be built near Waxahachie, just outside Dallas, Texas, USA. It was first conceived of in 1978 at workshops of the International Committee on Future Accelerators where a powerful particle accelerator was discussed. Then in 1982, the Snowmass Summer Study that was sponsored by the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society discussed the project further. It was predicted that it would have taken around nine years to complete (from 1991 to 2000), costing nearly $12 billion, which was over twice the original estimate.
The device would have accelerated beams of protons (particles found in the nuclei of all atoms) around an 87km (54 mile) long tube until they were travelling extremely close to the speed of light (300,000km/s). Some beams would travel clockwise, others anti-clockwise; thus they would collide at an energy of 40 trillion electron volts (40TeV), revealing a burst of tiny particles that special detectors would analyse. The planned 40TeV figure was double the original expectation and it transpired that organising the project at large was logistically problematic.
A word should be said about the unit called the Electron Volt before continuing into the depths of the sub-atomic world. The Electron Volt (eV) is the unit of energy used for giving the mass or energy of a particle. The reason the same unit can be used for both mass and energy is that by Einstein's famous equation E=mc2, mass is energy. So if it is being used to denote the mass of a particle, the unit should be expressed as eV/c2.
Anyway, an Electron Volt is how much energy or energy transfer (work) there is necessary to move one electron through a field of one volt. As energy, it can also be expressed as 1.602*10-19 joules (if you are not familiar with standard form this is 0.0000000000000000001602 J). Since this is such a small unit, it is more common to see Mega Electron Volts (MeV, a million times larger) or even Giga Electron Volts (GeV, a thousand million times larger). 100-watt light bulbs require 100 / (1.602 * 10-19 * 106) MeV = 6.24*1014 MeV every second.
To put things into perspective, the mass of an average-built human in Mega Electron Volts is 4*1031MeV/c2. And to put this further in perspective, to obtain this amount of energy you would need to eat the equivalent of nearly 13 trillion plain chocolate bars! Well, it is in the name of science isn't it?
In order to get the protons to move in this way, exceedingly strong magnetic fields have to be used, created with magnets made of a specially reinforced material that would stop the field from warping the metal of the magnet itself. They were supposed to be so large as to be hundreds of thousands of times more powerful than the magnetic field of the Earth! In turn, the magnets would have to be free of thermal and electrical resistance in the coils. Since resistance is caused by other particles impeding the progress of electrons through wires, the best way to stop it is to cool the coil close to absolute zero temperature (-273.15 degrees C) so that the particles can barely move.
What Was its Purpose?
It was hoped that the SSC would ultimately provide evidence for one of the greatest theories of the century: superstring theory (or M-theory). M-theory is an attempt at unifying Albert Einstein's celebrated theories of relativity, with the new revolution of quantum mechanics, two theories that seem to be inherently incompatible. M-theory does this by stating that all sub-atomic particles are not just 'points', but tiny vibrating membranes of more dimensions than it is possible to see.
The trouble with M-theory was that nobody could think of a way of proving it, since these membranes would be far too small to detect even with the most powerful of microscopes. The aim of the SSC was to try to discover some particles in the proton collision debris that might give a pointer to the correctness of M-theory's ideas, including the existence of so-called super-particles that have been so far hypothetical. They might also have detected a particle called the Higgs boson, which would have shed light onto many other mysteries of nuclear physics because it is predicted in the highly esteemed Standard Model of Particle Physics, as well as the hypothetical axions that might solve the dark matter issue.
Like most physics experiments, the SSC could never have definitively proved any scientific theory; it could only have provided some experimental evidence that would support the theory. It would also have been impossible for the SSC to produce an answer to everything. The energy necessary to create a black hole or wormhole, which would allow us to probe higher dimensions, is a quadrillion times larger (one million billion) than what the SSC would have been capable of.
You are probably by now aware of the use of the conditional tense throughout the article. This is because the SSC was cancelled in 1993 by the US Congress, who considered that the equally expensive International Space Station could not be built as well as the SSC. Twenty-two kilometres (14 miles) of the tunnel had already been dug, costing $2 billion.
The USA wanted to be at the forefront of cutting-edge science research when the SSC was first proposed. It was initially seen as having so many political and social advantages that it was worth the money (that was when its target cost was $8.25 billion). About 7,000 jobs were created by the SSC and contracts were made in 48 of America's 50 states, while 23,000 students enrolled in mathematics and science courses that involved the SSC. More than 100 American universities were hoping to be involved in the SSC's research. The magnet tests had passed successfully, the rest of the colliding tunnel was contracted and all tasks were on schedule. Even China and India had signed contracts to get involved. There was a possibility that the SSC would help in research on proton-beam cancer therapy and even an insight into the structure of the AIDS virus.
Yet despite all of this work and all of these advantages, there is now a $2 billion hole in Texas that has been used only for storing Styrofoam cups for many years. The company ProTac Global Inc., based in Texas, has now bought part of the site for anti-terrorism firearms training (for a mere $8 million, which they claim is larger than the asking price). The conversion of the site of the device, which could have shown the world its most fundamental workings, to a military organisation was to be completed on the first anniversary of the 11 September, 2001 attacks.
Roy Schwitters was the director of the SSC project and has now moved on to be a physics professor at the University of Texas in Austin. He is saddened by the decision to turn the site into the military zone, especially after the hard work of the physics community in trying to resurrect the project. Three other science-related uses for the site were suggested before ProTac (medical radiation research, a cryogenics centre and a super-computing centre) but all were rejected, again because of the high costs.
Does the SSC provide an insight into the mindset of the US government, or is physics just getting too unrealistically expensive? You decide: would you have a site for teaching people how to defend themselves against terrorists, or a device that is the most audacious of its kind that would explore the fundamental nature of space and time itself?
Super Collider 2013 UPDATE
The Super Collider installation, located in Waxahachie Texas on the Old Buena Vista Rd, its buildings and presumably the 20 miles of tunnel, has been purchased by a company by the name of Magnablend. This company specializes in custom chemical manufacturing and blending. Two years ago thier Waxahachie plant, located on Hwy 287 in Waxahachie, Texas, exploded releasing tons of serious and dangerous chemicals into the air and ground. It was one of the worse environmental accidents in Ellis Country history. All the top soil had to be removed from the entire site .
Magnablend has moved to the Super collider buildings. This installation is located in a rural area situated over a water source for the county and the residences of the area. Local rural residences are very concerned about ground water contamination after the contamination of the land on the company;s original location.
Magnablend Website www.magnablend.com/corporate.html