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Government Science

Breaking Into the Super Collider 168

Posted by Soulskill
from the checking-for-black-holes dept.
BuzzSkyline writes "A group of physicists went AWOL from the American Physical Society conference in Dallas this week to explore the ruins of the nearby Superconducting Super Collider. The SSC was to be the world's largest and most ambitious physics experiment. It would have been bigger than the LHC and run at triple the energy. But the budget ran out of control and the project was scrapped in 1993."
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Breaking Into the Super Collider

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  • by fermion (181285) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:47PM (#35617152) Homepage Journal
    It is these types of things that inspire kids to get an education. It was frequent trips to NASA that inspired me to become a technical person. It was observing real scientists doing real science that taught me to be a scientist. We cannot just wave out hands around a beg and plead for students to study math and science, and for teach to competently present the subject. Without real experiences what will the teacher present? Dull facts out of books they have read. Without the ability to see real science what will the students learn? That these things are what far away people do, with no relation to their local opportunities.

    This is just one of those short sighted things we do because missiles are more exciting that basic science. A generation of US scientists should be considered loss as a result, and a generation of people able to teach the next generation about science is lost as well. How many billions of dollars is being spent to bootstrap science programs based on pictures in books when we could have have science based on real world experience.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (retawriaf)> on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:57PM (#35617782) Homepage

    Note that the construction site is preserved rather than completely abandoned.

    Well, from the pictures it appears to be nearly completely abandoned - preserved sites don't have standing water on the floor.

  • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 25, 2011 @09:05PM (#35618740) Homepage Journal

    I don't remember it that way. It was a "big science/little science" fight, if I recall.

    The whole SSC thing got started under the Reagan administration, and I *especially* remember the impact when Reagan came in, because I was a student at MIT and had jobs in many research labs around the institute. The Reagan administration did a huge reorientation of the national research program. The Reagan administration had an ideology about research that pulled the plug on a lot of applied research, because that should be done by the private sector. The exception was in DoD funded research, which got a lot *more* focused on immediate applications -- specifically things that were immediately applicable to making weapons -- and so even DoD funded researcher felt the pinch. Although I disagree with Reagan's science policy, it kind of makes sense from their point of view. Making and using weapons is a legitimate government function in their view, as was research that was so far from having practical application that it could not conceivably attract any kind of private sector investment.

    The SSC was the kind of thing that the Reagan could get behind. It was by no stretch of the imagination *applied* research. It was a big and showy counterargument to the charge that the administration was "anti-science", and in the grand scheme of things, the $4.4 billion was a pittance to an administration that was going to build a 600 ship navy, and which actually *doubled* federal spending over its tenure. The problem is you can't conjure a direction change in a nation's research establishment overnight. People are in the middle of their careers, and you can't conjure new careers out of thin air. A generation of researchers had to scramble harder than ever for funding, and the funds for the SSC would have purchased a *lot* of small science.

    One of the political drawbacks with the SSC is that the economic impact couldn't be spread around the way defense contractors do to build a support base in Congress. Somebody elsewhere suggested physicists near losing SSC sites lobbied their congressmen to kill the SSC, but that doesn't really make sense. Once SSC was killed, nobody was going to build another one. The jealous nuclear physicists who would supposedly have an ax to grid would be better off having the SSC built in Texas than not built at all. But I do think it's likely there was a lot of political opposition from scientists who were "small science" advocates. Not that scientists of any stripe individually or collectively have much clout, but if legislators heard opinions from scientists on the project, the bulk of opinions were likely critical. The kinds of problems any project on this scale would have could easily be spun as imminent disaster.

"Stupidity, like virtue, is its own reward" -- William E. Davidsen

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