This article is supported by brilliant org. Remember they discovered the Higgs boson. It feels like a long time ago feels like whenever I talk about it was like a generation ago or something it’s like yes, the Higgs boson exists and the Higgs field is the thing.
We all know that yeah. That was six years ago. Six years ago there’s mustard in my fridge that’s older than that. I think these days there are so many scientific advancements and discoveries coming at us so fast that it’s, easy to kind of get things lost in the melee I mean the Higgs boson, just remember what a big deal that was this missing piece Of the standard model, this particle that gives mass to all the other particles it was like.
Without this, the standard model was just like a Ginga puzzle missing an entire row. Physicists have been searching for decades for this proof and it was only made possible by the immense particle smashing power of the Large Hadron Collider in Europe.
But here’s. The thing it should have been discovered earlier like years ago and in fact we should have made way bigger discoveries in that by now Dark Matter, gravitons other things we can’t even imagine right now, because it was another particle accelerator that should have Been built 30 years ago, one right here in the US and one that would have made the LHC look like some kind of high school science fair project.
What I’m about to say, is probably gon na, come to a shock. To many of you, but the United States used to be highly respected around the world. I know that sounds crazy. We defeated the Nazis in Imperial Japan, we split the atom we went to the moon.
Had this big economic boom invented rock and roll, and not a Kardashian in sight and the early days of the Cold War, scientists flooded into the United States and searched that good, ol American dream and are spending on basic science.
Thanks to that flow of money, the 50s 60s and 70s were a golden age of particle physics. In the United States we discovered several predicted components of the standard model we made huge strides and our high energy program became the envy of the world.
But in a story we’ve heard many other times before. As the Cold War started to wind down, so did the spending for that kind of basic science stuff it’s almost like it was all just a big pissing contest with the Russians or something it’s cuz.
It was new particle accelerators in Europe, began to surpass what we were capable of here in the United States and with some pioneering work done by CERN, it started to look like we’re gon na be overtaken in the science world unless something drastic Was done and that something was a development of a very big accelerator, something like this has been talked about since 1959, but in the 70s it took on a renewed interest, especially an accelerator that used superconducting magnets, which could direct the flow of particles without losing any Energy to heat this was the secret sauce that was gon na put us back on top of the physics world and, as Reagan became president many well-known physicists began lobbying for a superconducting accelerator Leon.
Lederman then, director of the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, also known as Fermilab envisioned a huge underground loop, where particles could be accelerated to near-light speed then collided to produce high mass particles as byproducts Lederman called this idea.
The desert Ron and you know what stop laughing it’s, the coolest name, you’ve ever heard, and you know it. The idea took hold and a couple of high-ranking officials in the Reagan administration, including his science advisor George Keyworth, and they sold Reagan on the idea.
Plans were drawn up for what became known as a superconducting, supercollider or SSC. It wasn’t, the most difficult sales pitch of all time. Reagan took over at the end of the 70s when there was a huge recession and he believed in American exceptionalism, and he wanted to go out there and show the world by investing in big science projects like this.
Some of it was militaristic, like the Strategic Defense Initiative, which became known as Star Wars, but it was also spinning on the United States Space Station freedom and those are just two high-profile examples of dozens of projects that got greenlit during this time, one of which was The SSC so 1983, a central design group, was brought together at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory to create this high-energy physics dream machine.
They proposed an underground loop with a 52 mile circumference underground to contain the radiation from the high-energy collisions. It was originally budgeted at two to three billion, but it quickly increased to 4 billion as more realistic plans came in ambitious yes, but it was a giant leap in particle science.
Up to that point, the biggest particle collision ever achieved was 1.8 trillion, electron volts or 1.8 tev, and this was done at Fermilab in 1986. The SSC would deliver 20 trillion electron volts per proton, so in a proton, a proton collision.
It would peak out at forty trillion electron volts that’s, a lot more like that is a ridiculous jump in power. So why go so big with this one? Because the Large Hadron Collider was already in development by CERN over in Europe, and they were targeting 18 trillion electron volts.
So if it was anywhere around that range, the SSC would have just been redundant. So it made sense to go significantly bigger that you know. The next question, of course, is where do you put such a monstrosity? Well, it turns out a lot more people are willing to host a monstrosity of four billion dollars come along with it.
43 states competed the host of SSC, but the winning site that turned out was Waxahachie Texas, which is like just right down the road from me. It was chosen because the geography was good for tunneling and also just easy access to a major metropolitan city and all the amenities that come with that an International Airport plus the locals were really inviting.
Some of the candidate cities actually saw protests against the SSC. The locals often had sort of a not in my backyard attitude about it, even though the politicians really gung-ho about it and all the money that it would bring in, but in Texas they they basically got a welcome parade, a parade that was hosted by this guy.
For those of you who are too young to know who he is, his name is H Ross Perot he was a Texas billionaire and a one-time presidential candidate and yeah. He was like a mean before memes, more memes Perot, through his considerable backing and support behind the SSC before running for president as an independent in 1992, a move that ironically kind of doomed the project, because by running as a business, focused independent, he kind of split The conservative vote just enough for Bill Clinton to become president and Bill Clinton had a different view on how science dollars should be spent.
You know, while Reagan and Bush were all about basic science or science for the sake of science. Bill Clinton was more about applied. Science or science that had some kind of specific goal. He was also under a lot of pressure to reduce the deficit that it kind of exploded during the Reagan Bush years, but the project was well underway by the time Clinton was inaugurated in 1993.
Tunneling had already begun and want to by that fall, nearly 2,000 people had moved into the area, scientists and engineers to work on the project, and they’d already tun up. Fourteen point six miles a tunnel.
Unfortunately, in October that year the supercollider was cancelled by an act of Congress when a House Budget refused to fund the project. Now there’s, a lot of fingers. You can point to different people to blame for the you know, death of this project, but big science projects like this are rarely simple, especially in a big messy democracy like we have, for example, when the site selection was being done.
One of the contender cities was Chicago because Fermilab was already there and they thought the SSC could just kind of like be a bigger version of what was already going on at Fermilab. Besides a lot of Fermilab, scientists were already involved with SSC and the design and testing of it, and they already had the infrastructure there at Fermilab.
So you know why not just make this an extension of that. It makes sense, of course, with four billion dollars at stake. That argument. Didn’t carry much water outside of Illinois. It’s worth mentioning this, because one of the biggest criticisms of the project was how it was managed.
You know outside the military there, just wasn’t much precedent for a project of this scale, and one of the few that comes close is Fermilab. So the fact that they didn’t capitalize on what was already.
There was probably a huge mistake now: another big gripe about the SSC was that it was kind of funneling money away from other smaller, but also important science projects. Now that wasn’t true at the beginning, when the Reagan administration was going all in on science projects, they thought that it would be paid for by economic growth.
But when that didn’t happen, Congress had to kind of tighten the shoelaces amongst a lot of other deficit control measures. One of the things that Congress did was pass an act that basically put a cap on science spending, meaning all the money.
That was going to the SSC meant less money going to other projects, and this was fine during the Reagan and Bush years when the SSC was a priority. But as soon as Bill Clinton became president well, its days were numbered and it wasn’t that he hated the SSC it’s.
Just he was knew. A lot of people are complaining about it and he didn’t. Really have the political clout to you know overcome that it didn’t help that the budget for this thing was completely spinning out of control.
I mentioned earlier that was originally planned at two to three billion dollars and it had gone up to four billion dollars. Yeah, that was just in the planning stages, as construction became real and improvements were made to the magnet design, the budget ballooned to eight and a quarter billion dollars with some projecting it to go up to ten billion dollars.
That’s. A lot of important projects worth of money and it became increasingly hard to justify cutting programs, some of which had a really important and specific goal in mind for a project that was huge and massive and well, we didn’t know what we were Gon na find, I mean that was kind of the point, and the project that was arguably the biggest culprit in the death of the SSC is something you probably don’t want to hear the International Space Station Space Station freedom was the original name Of the space station, I mentioned that before it was a 100 percent u.
s. controlled us own project, but when that Reagan money stopped flowing, they had to get a little bit more creative, so NASA partnered up with international space agencies from around the world, and they were Able to make it happen renaming at the international space station, but doing the same thing with the SSC is a bit more tricky.
I mean one thing is just geography. You know the international space station floats around the earth. Every country has equal access to it, whereas the SSC was gon na be deep in the heart of Texas, plus most European countries were heavily involved in CERN and the Large Hadron Collider, so they already kind of had something that they were working on.
Russia Hindon had about it, but they were kind of busy with the whole. You know collapse of communism and reorganization of their entire society thing, but the closest fit was Japan. This is where there was actually a glimmer of hope for this project.
Japan’s, economy was booming and if we could form a strong partnership with him, maybe we can make this happen. We were basically the mom at the office that had one last box of cookies to sell for her kids, fundraiser and Japan was the only manager that we hadn’t asked yet, except we had asked.
We’d, been talking to Japan about this from the beginning actually, and they always seem to kind of yank the football away at the last second, one of their biggest gripes with some of the import quotas that we had on foreign cars is of Little political mood to try to boost domestic auto production.
Obviously this wasn’t good for the Japanese, auto industry, which was just starting to get a foothold in the United States at the time, so that was kind of a quid pro quo. That was the you scratch. My back, I’ll scratch.
Yours kind of thing. Of course it’s, not that simple, politically in the United States, when the auto industry is struggling, and they know that opening up the floodgates of Japanese cars would just kind of come in and take over big, auto, probably wouldn’t, Like that, and neither would their lobbying money, this was a deeply entrenched in difficult situation.
Entire summits had been convened between the United States and Japan to try to find some way some maneuvering. That would make all this possible and in 1992, at a specific summit, the SSC was on the agenda.
This was going to be the meeting that determined the fate of the largest particle physics experiment in human history. Untold sums of human knowledge hung in the balance, and this happened that’s. Us President, George HW Bush at a state dinner hosted by Prime Minister of Japan, kiichi Miyazawa, and that is u.
s. President George HW Bush puking on the Prime Minister of Japan. Kiichi Miyazawa, and that is the story of how some bad sushi killed the largest particle physics experiment in human history. Look if we’re being honest here, it wasn’t sushi.
The doctors blamed it on a bad mix of medications that Bush had been on plus travel exhaustion and it also isn’t like the Prime Minister of Japan got puked on. I was like that’s. It the sec, is done. It’s just they were now concerned about Bush’s, health and wanted to kind of get him out of there a little bit quicker.
So they had to drop a lot of things from the agenda and the SSC was one of those things that got dropped regardless. Japan did not become a partner, and from that point forward the SSC was just a dead man.
Walking at this point, the whole project just became a political punching bag. You know a prime example of pork-barrel spending, a boondoggle that just kept getting bigger every time you looked at it.
Of course, a scientist who understood it’s. Odd is the particle physics equivalent of putting a man on the moon. Of course, putting a man on the moon is much more inspiring to the general public and there is a very specific goal for that.
Putting a man on the moon, it’s kind of right there in the name, regardless by the end of 1993, the last 640 million dollars and the project’s. Budget was being spent to shut everything down and find new jobs for all the engineers and scientists that were working on it.
So what do we miss out on on this, like how big of a loss was this? If by we, you mean the United States? Well, I mean we’re, not the biggest and baddest aren’t we, if by we, you mean humanity as a whole.
Well, there’s, some people that think that we could have found the Higgs bow in the early 2000s instead of 2012. I mean that would’ve been nice, but of course it’s really about the things that we haven’t found.
Yet you know things that might lie outside the capabilities of the LHC that the SSC might have been able to actually see, like maybe the graviton there’s, a puzzle in particle physics, known as the hierarchy problem.
Basically, gravity is the weakest of all the fundamental forces and ridiculously so like all. The other fundamental forces are like right up here, just kind of hanging out making sense and then gravity is like way down here.
The difference is these guys all have a force carrier particle associated with them and gravity doesn’t at least not one. We’ve, been able to find being able to find a force carrier particle for gravity, might put them all up at pretty close to the same level.
And if you can do that, then you could probably tie them all into one force. A grand unifying theory, if you will gravitons, would be a game-changer. It might open up answers to dark matter. Dark energy maybe give us a whole new picture of reality as we know it, or if you want to keep getting crazier with it.
If we can find a graviton, we might find a way to manipulate it, and if you can manipulate a graviton, you can manipulate gravity. You can control gravity. That would be the ultimate form of propulsion.
We could just fly anywhere. We wanted. It sounds fun yeah. That’s. Basically, what the world would be like if the super collider had been built all those people 100 years ago that made predictions about 2020 yeah.
They would have been right. All their wild predictions would have come true. If only the super collider had been built, the truth is we don’t know it’s. Not like we’re done. You know it’s not like we’ll, never get there.
There are some plans and things in the work that could possibly get us to that point. One is the LHC itself: it’s actually been down for the last few years, making improvements in this luminosity, which might actually give it some new super powers.
Luminosity is basically the sensitivity of the equipment. You know, I talked a lot about the power part of it. How many you know trillion electron volts of power that can be generated and that’s important, but the other side of it is the sensitivity of the equipment being able to track the motions of these particle debris that fly around.
That’s, pretty important as well, and actually it was any solace. The LHC always had this over the supercollider. It was designed to have 21 times the luminosity of the supercollider. So a lot of experts actually think that functionally their abilities might have been about the same plus the LHC’s.
Luminosity has been improved on multiple times in this new iteration of it. It’s. Actually gon na give it ten times more luminosity than before and increase the power by one trillion electron volts. So I mean that’s.
Progress now beyond that, there’s, the future circular Collider, which is another certain project that they announced. This last January, this is gon na, be a 100 kilometer particle accelerator with the potential to Hulk smash atoms at a hundred trillion electron volts, and they seem to learn from one of the biggest missteps from the super collider.
They’re, actually gon na build this on site where the LHC already exists, so they can kind of take advantage of that already. Existing infrastructure in China has a similar 100 kilometer collider that’s in the planning stages at China’s Institute of high energy physics.
Both of these projects are expected to go online, sometimes with 2030s, so just keep taking your vitamins, and god only knows what we’ll all get to discover. Just a quick personal note. I hope you like this article is a little bit different from what I normally do is sort of like an interesting history kind of thing, but it’s, not at all what I wanted to do with this.
A super collider like I said it’s literally right here in my backyard, like I remember being in college, it was a huge story back in the day, and I really wanted to interview some of the people that might have worked on it.
That might have planned it. I wanted to go to the site and record. You know where they done some of the tunneling. I heard that they actually filled in the tunnels with water, so it’s not like. I could go down there and explore which would & # 39.
Ve been really cool, but I could at least you know, go there and find the spot anyway. It didn’t quite work out. The way I wanted to, but if that’s, something that you guys will be interested in, I am looking at doing some bigger longer form documentary type projects in the coming year.
So this could be one of them if it’s, something you want to follow up on. Just tell me down the comments now. One thing I didn’t really even go into in this article is what exactly these particles are.
They’re like being smashed at these particle accelerators. Ultimately, that’s. What this is all about. So if you would like to learn more about that, I can highly recommend the quantum objects course.
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