The USA's Super Collider Lies Abandoned in the Texas Desert

Trevor English

super collider location[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Believe it or not, the USA almost won the race to create a fully functioning super collider, and it would have been 3 times as big as the current CERN super collider in Europe. Construction began in 1991 on what would have been the world's largest particle accelerator near the town of Waxahachie, Texas. The estimated circumference of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) was going to be 87.1 km. To put this into perspective, the CERN super collider is only 27 kilometers in circumference. Construction on the project had already reached a very advanced state, but the United States Congress ultimately defunded the project, leaving the superconductor abandoned in the Texas desert.

abandoned tunnels[Image Source: Wikimedia]

Up until the point when the project was scrapped, the USA had already invested US$2 billion in the project, and it was estimated to take 4 billion dollars more to complete it. Tunnels had already begun to be dug, in fact, 23.4 kilometers of tunnels lay abandoned out at the Texas site, where they were filled with water to help preserve their structure.

The Superconducting Super Collider was an ambitious project but budget concerns are ultimately what got physicist's paradise shut down. Opponents in Congress at the time were able to convince the voting majority that the International Space Station was a much more noble endeavor, as true or not as that may be.

The SSC would have accelerated protons with a capacity of 40 TeV, much more than CERN's current world record of 14 TeV. TeV stands for Terra-electron-Volts, which is the unit of measurement in particle acceleration. Many factors played into the cancellation of the project, but as mentioned, budget concerns were at the highest on the list. On top of that, the project was mismanaged by physicists in the department of energy, and the collapse of the Soviet Union degraded the need for the U.S. to race to scientific superiority as a superpower.

ABANDONED collider[Image Source: Wikimedia]

As a whole, the American Physics community was crushed by the decision to cancel construction, after all, this could have been home to some of the world's most significant scientific discoveries, much like the Large Hadron Collider is today. One might assume that the majority of the budget for the project was drained into tunneling and building construction, but that only accounted for around 20 percent of the overall money spent. The most costly of endeavors was developing the magnets for the system, which were still in development when the SSC was canceled.

LHC collider[Image Source: Wikimedia]

For now, an incredibly disappointing large network of buildings and tunnels lies under Texas soil. For most residents of the area beyond the immediate location, the project isn't known about, and the lost potential fades into the night.