Sunday, May 25, 2008

Behind a Scientific Success, a Failed Texas Experiment

As the dawn of the LHC is upon us and the excitement growing by the day, a relic of what could have been the most powerful particle collider ever built sat decaying and gathering dusts in Texas. This article looks back at the debacle that was the Superconducting Supercollider what was supposed to be built just outside of Dallas.

The Tevatron ring measures about 4 miles in circumference. The SSC ring was to have been 54 miles in circumference, producing collisions 20 times more intense than the Tevatron.

The new European accelerator, called the Large Hadron Collider, will not be as powerful as the mighty SSC would have been. The Large Hadron Collider's ring, about 17 miles in circumference, should be capable of producing collisions about one-third as powerful.

The collapse of the SSC is also an example on how politics got into the way of a science project, especially in how Fermilab lost the opportunity to build it there. It also shows very clearly for the first time that physicists are not united behind such huge and horribly expensive machine. Phil Anderson, for example, testified on why he was opposed to such a facility.

The SSC would have made the LHC moot. However, the SSC collapse has also foreign partnerships with the US more weary about the US commitment to such endeavor. The recent budget cutbacks on the ILC and ITER only reinforced such point of view.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The AGN protons, identified last November by Pierre Auger as being the ultra-high-energy cosmic rays of 10^21 eV and higher, are just barely above the COM energy of the LHC [if that]. Assume an incoming proton of energy of 2X10^21 eV striking a stationary proton in earth's atmosphere. The COM energy of the two combined would be about [using the rest-mass of the proton at 1 GeV, not the .94 GeV it's actually closer to] 10^15 eV, or about 1,000 TeV [about what I've read the Lead-Lead collisions will do?]

Now, the point is, that COM energy is much lower that the energy as measured in earth's reference frame for the incoming particle, because the COM is also relativistic relative to earth; i.e. it is moving at 99.99+% the speed of light [slower than the incoming particle of some 99.999999+% c, but still relativistic]. At that speed, any microblackhole would appear invisible to earth, and pass harmlessly through, "like a neutrino" in the words of the LHC Safety Assessemnt Group.

Conversely, the LHC is projected to make microblackholes at slow speed relative to earth, with some slow enough to be captured gravitationally, allowing them to endlessly orbit through earth at slow speed, slowly growing larger [and increasing their cross-section for interaction with increasing mass], IF they don't evaporate.

Essentially, it's a gamble whether or not they evaporate by "Hawking Radiation", a gamble many people don't believe is worth taking.

I for one do understand relativistic calculations.


Walter L. Wagner