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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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  • Great thinking. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seumas (6865) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:34PM (#35617034)

    So, instead of the project being an over budget waste, they canned it so it could be a complete waste with no return. Brilliant.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      At the rate at which the graft was growing, the cost was going to approach infinity.

    • Re:Great thinking. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:41PM (#35617100)

      So, instead of the project being an over budget waste, they canned it so it could be a complete waste with no return. Brilliant.

      See: Sunk Costs [wikipedia.org]

      Also, this thing was turning into a white elephant - between mismanagement by the physicists and cost over-runs (gee, from Government contractors?!? No way!) this was going to turn into a huge money pit. Anyway, the Europeans did it better

      • I agree with AC. I love science and I'd love to see more science projects but to enforce at least halfway reasonable government spending, there must be consequences for overspending. They couldn't get their costs under control and showed no sign of getting better. Write them off and move on.
      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:06PM (#35617326) Journal

        Also, this thing was turning into a white elephant - between mismanagement by the physicists

        The problem was not physicists but politicians. Large colliders like the LHC and SSC require a chain of accelerators of increasing energy to inject protons into them. The US already has just such a chain but in Fermilab near Chicago, not in the middle of Texas. As I understand it the decision to move the SSC from Illinois to Texas was made by politicians for political reasons. Since the entire lower energy accelerator complex had to be built from scratch in Texas this literally doubled the cost of the project.

        The damage to US physics goes well beyond the loss of the project though. There were many non-US groups involved in the SSC and its cancellation has meant that many are extremely adamant that future international accelerator projects should not be built in the US due to a complete lack of faith in the US funding system.

        • by DCFusor (1763438) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:04PM (#35617852) Homepage
          A serious series of failures to be able to actually make magnets and detectors to the specs physicists made -- was what really did it. They promised a lot more than it turned out they could deliver, and proved that by not delivering on the preliminary prototypes, and after spending money ahead of schedule.

          For once, the politicians did the right thing, actually. These clowns weren't even in the same class as the guys are CERN. Hate to say it, I'm American and wish it were otherwise, but really, go read the reports. This was a bunch of people who thought conceptually trivial meant actually trivial. Nope, and most people outside ivory towers know that. Even some politicians.

          • You do realize that Americans engineered many parts of the LHC right? Including some of the accelerator magnets and parts of the detectors? This has nothing to do with nationality, probably just technological advancement that happened in the 10-15 years between projects.
          • I think you are being too hard on your fellow countrymen - and I say that as a non-American, not associated with any US institute and member of an LHC experiment. Part of the difference between true, groundbreaking research and the stuff industry typically does is that you are working well beyond the bleeding edge. Building something which your physics says is possible but which nobody has actually ever done is always fraught with unexpected issues simply because nobody has any real experience.

            If you loo
        • Nothing new here. Putting the Manned Spacegraft Center (err Lyndon B. Johnson Manned Spacecraft Center) in a pestilential swamp outside of Houston instead of the perfectly fine pestilential swamps outside the Kennedy Space Flight Center increased costs for Apollo and the Shuttle significantly. NASA is spread all over the country in large part to 'spread the wealth'. Same with the military except you have some justification for not putting all your targets in one place.
      • And the Europeans who "did it better" did it without government contractors? You left out any backing for your lame dig there.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)

      Not to worry, someday someone will start up another super-collider project from scratch

      I've actually seen this happen with some projects. The product is over deadline, so it gets cancelled. 6 months later a similar product gets started. Staff revives old design docs since they're still relevant. Management slaps them down and says "I told you we canceled that project!"

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Not to worry, someday someone will start up another super-collider project from scratch

        Yep, the Chinese. And they'll actually get it done too.

  • I remember when Michigan was vying for this project, touting how it would enhance Michigan's scienterrific credentials, bring more research bucks to University of Michigan, etc. Now that it's in ruins, it would still fit in with much of southeast Michigan - the rust belt - Bay City, Saginaw, Flint and the Detroit area. I wonder if they could somehow turn it into an underground D&D theme park?

    Paging Richard Garriott [geocaching.com]...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      wonder if they could somehow turn it into an underground D&D theme park?

      You are in a single circular passageway, all alike.

      • by ultranova (717540)

        You are in a single circular passageway, all alike.

        I took a look at Dungeon Masters Handbook, and it seems to devote quite a lot of pages on how to keep the players from straying from the tracks. Various Internet forums back this up. So why would a single-corridor dungeon be a problem?

        • by sg_oneill (159032)

          They really need to do a minecraft role play thing.

          DM: "You are in a long and not very twisty tunnel all alike , you can go north, or south".

          Player: "Fuck that *punches a hole in the roof with his fist*"

          DM: "ssssssssssss"

  • by Anonymous Coward

    They should've called it the "Texas World Science Racetrack" and listed as one of the goals "Determine the conditions of the world at the time of its creation in 4004 BC".

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Bemopolis (698691)
      It's bad enough what they *wanted* to call it — The Ronald Reagan Center for High Energy Physics (presumably for his previous work in the field of deciduous pollution vectors and the Grand Unification Theory of Vegetables and Condiments. Look it up, kids.)

      And that was the same year that Richard Feynman died.
      • by ultranova (717540)

        It's bad enough what they *wanted* to call it â" The Ronald Reagan Center for High Energy Physics

        Well, seeing how the idea of a particle accelerator is to keep hitting the small and weak until they break so that you can profit from the wreckage, the name would had been quite appropriate.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:40PM (#35617086)

    While expensive, the budget was not out of control. Gingrich & Co killed the SSC for ideological reasons.

    • by rabbit994 (686936) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:51PM (#35617740)

      Too bad Gingrich and Company didn't take command of Congress till 1994 and it was cancelled in 93. Democrats killed this one.

    • by hey! (33014) on Friday March 25, 2011 @08:05PM (#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.

      • by Stripe7 (571267)
        Maybe some scientist should have told Reagan it was for generating anti-matter for anti-matter weapons and it would have been built.
    • Newt did not kill this. Clinton and dems did. Clinton did it because it was going to be about 40 billion to build, and CLinton wanted a balanced budget. Personally, I was fine with it being killed. Engineering reports SAID that it should not be located in Texas, but in Illnois. Bush, wright, etc pushed this through even though they KNEW that final costs for texas was around 40 billion. Had they done Fermi Labs, it really would have costs little AND have been done on schedule.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    " But the budget ran out of control and the project was scrapped in 1993."

    No, it was killed by the politics of high-energy physics. In a nutshell, those working at the competing research sites who lost the bid to be the SSC location, basically got their congressmen to fight and kill the SSC project.

    • by matfud (464184)

      polotics did get involved. The US built the SLA and was involved in paying for the LHC. I'm not surprised that funding for the SSC was withdrawn.A lot of europe and the US was involved in the LHC. Probably not a good plan as the SSC was a stunning idea. Not everything works out well.

    • by naoursla (99850)

      No, it was killed because...

      I don't want to post spoilers, but the actual history is all documented in a book of "fiction" by a physics professor at the University of Washington.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Einstein's_Bridge_(book) [wikipedia.org]

  • Did they have Aperture Science Super Colliding Super Buttons?

  • by fermion (181285) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:47PM (#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.

    • 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? Without the ability to see real science what will the students learn?

      Evolution or ID. It's the only thing that people are fighting over, thus it gets all the attention.

    • by UBfusion (1303959)

      These types of things, and these ruins specifically, tell kids that maybe getting an education is overrated. All the people involved in the SSC project had an education, but apparently not the power to prevent it from becoming a dollar black hole.

      If I were a US citizen, I'd demand. that these installations totally disappear from the map and all references to it be removed from press, books and the internet, because the SSC incident represents a national science hall of shame.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        I'm a US citizen, and I want these installations to stand as monuments for how bad this country is for science, and as a warning for kids to not bother going into science, unless they plan to move to another country after they finish their degrees.

        Trying to hide the truth doesn't help anything. We as a nation have to face the fact that we're quickly turning into a 3rd-world backwater, and there's simply nothing that can be done about it because it's what a majority of our citizens want.

      • by SheeEttin (899897)

        If I were a US citizen, I'd demand. that these installations totally disappear from the map and all references to it be removed from press, books and the internet, because the SSC incident represents a national science hall of shame.

        Then perhaps it should be put in a hall of shame, rather than erased from history? "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", and all that.

        Oh, and George Orwell's here too. He'd like to have a few words with you.

    • by Patch86 (1465427)

      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.

      Sadly, I understand that from the other point of view. My childhood was distinctly devoid of anyone or anything even remotely interested in science and engineering, and my school education seemed to take the attitude that 2 hours a week copying out of text books was all the science education a person would need (I had only 6 months of genuinely interesting science education in my whole school career- and only because my teacher for those two terms funded a great deal of experiments out of her own pocket).

      It

  • by tsa (15680)

    Beautiful pictures! I woud love to explore a derilict building in that way.

  • by Lev13than (581686) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:49PM (#35617186) Homepage

    They missed a great opportunity to bring motorcycle helmets with them and make a whole website about their 'ride' through the famed "Superconducting Super Collider Exclusion Zone".

    • (Romulan ambassador Vreenak) IT'S A FAAAAAAKE!

      That Slavic lady with the motorcycle is a fraud. It was all debunked a few years ago. She never did what she said she did. So sad, for her to need to lie like that.

  • by Grapplebeam (1892878) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:53PM (#35617218)
    A fourty page, peer reviewed paper on how their application of force against the garage door they broke in through will revolutionize breaking and entering?
  • by hort_wort (1401963) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:53PM (#35617220)

    I had a conspiracy theory that this thing was secretly completed underground. These pictures lower the chances of that being true. I'm sad. :(

    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:12PM (#35617372) Homepage

      Dude, that's just the decoy ruin. The real SSC was built nearby, but far enough away that anyone looking for the known SSC site wouldn't see the people going in and out of the real site!

      • by demonbug (309515)

        Dude, that's just the decoy ruin. The real SSC was built nearby, but far enough away that anyone looking for the known SSC site wouldn't see the people going in and out of the real site!

        Why build one when you can build two at twice the price? I've seen that movie.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:54PM (#35617222)

    Reagan and his band of merry dolts didn't mind running the nation into massive deficit to give tax cuts to the rich and let the military run wild, but they couldn't allow spending on a science facility that might have actually gotten us somewhere. That wouldn't be as wise as giving corporations tax breaks to ship their factories overseas...(for the irony impaired, that was ironic).

    Imagine if we already FOUND the Biggs particle, or the graviton, or figured out how to control the magnetic bottle around fusion. Twenty-plus years of research was lost so we could "save money", money we pissed away instead to cause the first tsunami of our current massive deficits.

    It's "Keynesian nonsense" when the left does deficit spending; it's the Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981" or the "Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001" when the right does it. Sigh... And always remember the "Tax Reform Act of 1986", billed by Reagan as "tax simplification", but where we lost the deduction for interest on consumer loans. Simplification my left testicle...

    There is a special circle in hell for that bunch of idiots.

    • No.. it's still keynsian nonsense.

      The goal of an economy is to make the stuff. As in, the stuff that people want and need.

      The government can try to guess what that is, but every hour of a worker's time that the government directs is an hour that isn't spent making the stuff.. It doesn't matter whether they "legitimately" took that time at the point of a gun, or sneakily took the time by printing more tokens when no one was looking....

      This should be an easy challenge, right? find some examples of situation

      • by drsquare (530038)

        You do realise that your precious 'economy' wouldn't be worth a wank if not for thousands of years of government spending?

        Pretty much every modern industry is the direct result of massive government stimulus. Left to its own devices, the market wouldn't have anything to sell at all. Even Walmarts ability to sell you some plastic junk from China wouldn't be possible without centuries of state investment in military technology. And you can forget aviation...

        Of course all this is meaningless as the point of pa

    • by ErikZ (55491) *

      Oh? Where would it have gotten us?

      Are they going to keep the results of LHC a secret from Americans? No? So, we don't have to spend any money AND we get all the benefits of basic research?

      The research happened anyway. The only real problems are the experiments that cannot be done by the LHC because it's not big enough.

    • by istartedi (132515)

      There is a special circle in hell for that bunch of idiots

      Actually, it's a torroid and you're not being fair. It's in purgatory and both sides of the aisle keep us spinning in circles there.

  • Screw nature. I see enough trees and dirt every day. This kind of hike would be way more interesting!

  • by kav2k (1545689) on Friday March 25, 2011 @04:59PM (#35617276)

    For comparison, here are the photos of a similar abandoned Russian project (Google-translated):

    Post 1 [google.com] Post 2 [google.com]

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

    Wikipedia link [wikipedia.org]

  • The Numbers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sponge Bath (413667) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:04PM (#35617312)
    So for an additional 8 billion dollars, we could have had this incredible science resource. The hundreds of billions spend on bail outs and trillions spent on wars since then puts that and our current priorities in perspective.
  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:10PM (#35617360) Homepage

    It's not the greatest book in the world.

    It's not Herman Wouk's greatest book.

    But Herman Wouk's 2004 novel, "A Hole in Texas" has got to be the best romantic comedy about the Superconducting Super Collider ever written.

    • by maxume (22995)

      It still wouldn't have been the biggest a-hole in Texas.

    • How many romantic comedies have been written about that thing? Still, I loved Wouk's "Don't stop the carnival" so I might pick that one up as well.
  • False dichotomy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by blair1q (305137) on Friday March 25, 2011 @05:59PM (#35617792) Journal

    It wasn't a choice between ISS and SSC.

    We could have bought 5 SSC's for what it cost to develop and field the F-22.

    And, at current estimates, not doing F-35 could have built 80 SSCs.

    Never underestimate the sophistry of lobbyists trading off your money for their goals.

  • by woboyle (1044168) on Friday March 25, 2011 @06:42PM (#35618158)
    As far as I understood it, the budget was pretty well under control. It's just that the Republican Congress did not want to spend $$ on basic research. My wife was working on it, and if it had gone ahead, we would have been in Austin, TX. instead of Batavia, IL where my wife is a physicist at Fermi Lab. My father, also a physicist, was involved as well, but he was trying to get the collider to be situated in Colorado, where he worked... :-)
    • You may want to get an upgrade on your understanding. It was a Democratic Congress under a Democratic president who killed funding. :-)
  • I'm surprised the equipment, wiring, magnets, etc, haven't been stripped by looters. The amount of copper alone in those buildings...
    • I posted the original thread: They have. Every last room of the place has been gutted for copper and whatever people could get.
  • And then they built the supercollider.

  • this guy i know from college was working on that project until it was cancelled. a real bummer: we should be doing more cool science in america than europe.

  • They chose Texas which has some of the HARDEST GROUND IN THE USA. Few build basements there. The reason is that it is just not worth the costs of doing this. Instead, SSC SHOULD have gone to Illinois, where they would have been done in less time than was devoted to Texas. The question is, why did Texas win? Well, for the same reason that Texas was given LOADS of money from the USA under both Bushes.

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