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Shattering the SSC vision: what next?

The end came abruptly. Last week, the House voted overwhelmingly to reject further funding for construction of the $11 billion Superconducting Super Collider (SSC). Within days, Senate SSC supporters conceded and Congress allocated $640 million -- funds originally slated for continuing the project in fiscal year 1994 -- for shutting it down.

The decision strands thousands of physicists, engineers, and other workers attracted to Waxahachie, Texas, by the prospect of building a gigantic particle accelrator to probe the origin of mass, particularly the interactions that allowed energy to condense into a universe of protons, electrons, and neutrons. "This clearly has been devastating to our community," says Michael Barnett of the Lawrence Berkeley (Calif.) Laboratory. "They've devoted 10 years of their lives to this project. Right now, they feel like they've been shot in the knees. It really hurts."

House opponents of the SSC generally insisted that they were not rejecting the science behind the accelerator. They simply believed that the nation could no longer afford such an expensive undertaking. Reports of alleged mismanagement and cost overruns also hurt the SSC cause.

"I hope . . . that I am correct in interpreting the will of the House as a call for building better partnerships with other countries in the conduct of large science projects," said Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.), a strong SSC supporter. "The research that we envisioned for the SSC -- and the economic spin-offs of that research -- must continue."

One option open to the high-energy physics community is to throw their support behind the Large Hadron Collider, now under development at the European Laboratory for Praticle Physics (CERN) in Geneva, Switzerland. But there's no guaranteee that CERN will speed ahead with its project or that the United States will readily accept terms CERN sets for U.S. involvement.

"For years, in basic research, people came from around the world to the United States," Barnett says. Now, "a lot of us will be going to Europe to do research."

At the same time, the demise of the SSC might free up funds that could go to speeding up key improv ementds in the particle accelerator at Fermilab in Batavia, Ill. In he same energy and water development appropriations bill that killed the SSC, Congress allocated $25 million for the Fermilab modification and approved the expenditure of $36 million to start work on the B Factory at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SN: 10/16/93, p.245).

"There are still some big questions out there to be solved, and the B Factory and the [Fermilab] upgrade are aimed at solving two of those," says Robert L. Park of the American Physical Society.

"I think the worst outcome would be that the United States feels that it can no longer support big projects," Park says. But "it is hard to see in this environment how any such project can survive to completion."
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Title Annotation:Congress votes against continued funding for Super Conducting Super Collider
Author:Peterson, Ivars
Publication:Science News
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Oct 30, 1993
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