Physics Status in Politics
I am curious. There is a big particle accelerator being
constructed in the UK, 260$ million to build. Everyone is touting it to
be great, but wasn't there a 23 billion dollar one being made in texas,
that was cancelled when it was 11 billion dollars in completeion and took
around 3 billion to cancell it... So what I'm wondering is what
political people were responsible for this, and where I can get more
information, because I'm kind of angry now that I am more educated about
the subject. From what I know now, essentially our government set
physics back around a decade or so.
I am unfamiliar with the particle accelerator being built in the UK, but
believe that it is an X-ray synchrotron of which there are several in the US
of which the most notable is the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National
Laboratory, near Chicago.
The particle accelerator known as the Superconductor Supercollider (SSC) was
over way over budget. The initial concept was quoted at $4B, the prices
escalated to a factor of 10.
The machine was intended to be used to study high energy physics. However,
smaller machines are now being upgraded to perform unique experiments in the
U. S. (Fermi Laboratory) and the European Accelerator Facility (CERN near
Many U.S. scientist use CERN and there is commensurate use of U.S.
facilities by international scientists.
I think that there are two distinct questions regarding the funding of a
scientific project. One is "do we need to do this project?" and the other
one is "does this project rank high up among all other needs, scientific
Fewer people dispute the mere need. But you get a more divergent opinion,
even and perhaps specially among scientist and engineers, as to the
priority of one scientific program over another. Reasons unrelated to
scientific merit often influence and perhaps determine the decision as to
which project is funded. An influential person in the congress or the
administration can make a "case" for a weak project while a meritorious
project may not get funded because it lacks a strong backer. This is a
fact of life. In the final analysis, and for many reasons such as this, I
feel that there is no substitute for an educated and engaged populace.
On the particular project you mentioned, there are a variety of opinions
among scientists based on their self interest, experience, priorities, and
vision for the future. While the project was scrapped, research on
various components of it continues. I think there are many people far
more familiar with this than I and I hope they comment on it.
Dr. Ali Khounsary
Advanced Photon Source
Argonne National Laboratory
Argonne, IL 60439
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Update: June 2012