Now Ellis County and Waxahachie, a town of some 18,000 souls, was known for something entirely different. "The town will never be the same," a county Democratic Party chair told a reporter.

Neither, for that matter, would Ryszard Stroynowski.


Stroynowski grew up in the blasted ruin of Warsaw, Poland. He was born nine months after the end of World War II, after the Soviet Red Army drove Nazi German forces from his country. He was a toddler when the Soviet Union consolidated its political stranglehold in Poland and throughout the rest of Eastern Europe. He was a young boy building small rockets out of unspent bullets he found in the street when factory workers in Poznan´, protesting Communist rule and abhorrent working conditions, were slaughtered by the government.

Kaushik De, a physics professor at UTA, in a room full of computer servers that processed data that helped locate the Higgs boson.
Mark Graham
Kaushik De, a physics professor at UTA, in a room full of computer servers that processed data that helped locate the Higgs boson.
Ryszard Stroynowski, an SMU physics professor, helped design the massive detector that found Higgs boson.
Mark Graham
Ryszard Stroynowski, an SMU physics professor, helped design the massive detector that found Higgs boson.

His father, Juliusz Stroynowski, was a historian and journalist who covered the powder-keg topic of deteriorating relations between the Catholic Church and the regime. He couldn't get work because he'd been blacklisted by the Communist government. Instead, he translated books.

Stroynowski entered the University of Warsaw at the age of 17. He was interested in Romance languages and archeology, but his mind had a mathematical bent and physics was its outlet. In the face of repression and arbitrary bureaucracy, physics was immutable. Its pursuit had nothing to do with wealth or party connections; this internal life of the mind was boundless. The world of particle physics at that time was in the midst of a renaissance, enjoying global support in an era of escalating tensions between Western powers and the Soviet Union.

Stroynowski doesn't like to talk about his exit from Poland at the age of 23, but it coincided with the Soviet and Eastern Bloc invasion of Czechoslovakia, a country convulsed by waves of opposition to Communist Party restrictions. It became known as the Prague Spring, and it ignited in Poland an uprising among students and the intelligentsia. It was met with brutal suppression from police and mass academic expulsions. Stroynowski emigrated to Switzerland, where he was hired at CERN, the capital of particle physics research in Europe. CERN was bringing online the world's first proton-proton collider, the precursor of today's Large Hadron Collider. After five years, Stroynowski traveled to the United States and took a position as a staff physicist at Stanford's Linear Accelerator Center. To this day, you cannot author a paper about a certain type of quark without citing his work. In 1980, he became a senior researcher at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

A few years later, the international physics community was beginning to plan its next big experiment. Consensus was steadily growing, though schisms remained on exactly what form the next accelerator should take. Most physicists agreed that if they wanted to ask the big questions, if they wanted to delve into the Higgs and the origins of mass, or to stumble upon something completely unforeseen, they would have to build big. One could take the measure of a country's dominance in high-energy physics by the investment it was willing to make in complex, gargantuan accelerators. The United States was determined that the next step be taken on American soil. The concept that emerged was dubbed the "Desertron," because it would be massive, likely built in some sparsely populated corner of America.

When Stroynowski moved to Dallas in 1991, that corner was Waxahachie. "This was the place to be," he says. He felt like a pioneer setting off on a journey, leaving behind the comfort of sunny California for a land of tornadoes, blue northers and Baptists. He would exchange a prominent physics research institute for a private liberal-arts college with no physics department whatsoever. He would lead SMU's high-energy physics group and design a solenoid magnet many times larger than Stonehenge slabs. The prospect, he says, was "better than sex." There was a virgin frontier waiting for him on the wide Texas prairie.


As a cylindrical machine the size of a locomotive carved the Austin Chalk beneath Ellis County at record pace in 1991, the Superconducting Super Collider was already in trouble. By the time President George H.W. Bush took office, the $4.3 billion project had ballooned to nearly $6 billion to allow for inflation and the cost of detectors, each so huge they would barely fit inside the Cotton Bowl. Bush chose as his energy secretary Admiral James Watkins, a former chief of naval operations who served under Admiral Hyman Rickover, the man known as "The Father of the Nuclear Navy." Under Reagan, Rickover regularly battled with defense contractors over shoddy workmanship and cost overruns, most famously involving nuclear submarines. By some accounts, Watkins brought the same iron-fisted approach to the Super Collider. He removed physicists from key decision-making roles and replaced them with Department of Energy bureaucrats. "[The government] has had bad experiences with private industries," Stroynowski recalls. "They suck the money out of government, while the scientists only want to be efficient and effective."

Stroynowski and his colleagues were unlikely to bill the federal government for $600 toilet seats, yet they were nonetheless subject to the keen hyper-vigilance of their DOE overseers. His charge was to lead a program to design the largest magnet in the world, but his time was consumed by organizing separate meetings for the scientists and the DOE bureaucrats, who he says rarely communicated. "I know I spent $25 million over three years, and a fair fraction went to organizing the meetings; 25 people for three days, a thousand dollars each."

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15 comments
t7pm
t7pm

good article to read but i seriously have a huge problem with personal biases and unnecessary derogative words thrown into the news like when the author called Bush a lame duck. i don't like everything Bush did but please be more professional next time. 

torrHL
torrHL

@modassic Pakistani Nobel laureate whose work led to Higgs was scorned in homeland because of his religious affiliation http://t.co/vDeikTlJ

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk

I'm sure the conservative powers-that-be were incensed by the arrogance displayed by the scientific community in referring to this "science-y" thing as the *GOD* particle and decided to rile up the rabble and get their collective pitchfork on to drive this thing back north where the godless-commie-libtard-yankees can absorb "Gawd's Awful Wrath" for daring to mock his creation with things like "microscopes" and "theories" and such.

jbeckplano
jbeckplano

My recollection of that time was that then Senator Phil Gramm played a negative role in this whole affair.  You see, as I recall, Phil made a lot of enemies in Congress with his relentless attacks on the "pork" for their states and districts.  Then when it came to the supercollider in his state of Texas, it was payback time.  Comments and corrections welcomed.

Rudy Cruz
Rudy Cruz

I wrote a paper on the SSC right after congress axed the expensive effort. Last estimate put it over $13-billion; enough money to send every man, woman and child to college for free in America. Sometimes you have to ask, does the ends justify the means? But all these years I've still yet to find out what happened to all those humongous magnets.

mamta2
mamta2

The Higgs Boson adds mass only when three quark particles get together. Just two are not found to form a stable proton with mass. Immediately after its function of adding the mass, Higgs Boson ceases to exist. This concept of the need for the basic three to create matter, has been discussed in Indian knowledge system which describes the Universe as being created from TrigunathmikaPrakrithi. Prakrithi is the nature of the Creation of this Universe and Triguna are the three characteristics which help in this Creation process. The process itself is called Trivrtitkaranam, “the act of the three when they come together.”

Amazing Parallels between the ancient Indian Knowledge Systems and Modern Research on Creation. More here- http://wp.me/p2y0ZV-7R

 

akm1044
akm1044

Is anyone out there willing to converse?

akm1044
akm1044

Whoops I misspelled  EXPLORATION

 

akm1044
akm1044

The God particle  IS the next destination for eploration. Damm the goverment for stopping it's support. Who is afraid of finding the truth? I believe that it is far much scarier to not know what we are up against or coming into .

Randy Wilson
Randy Wilson

Our dropping the ball on the Super Collider was one of the great scientific tragedies of the modern age

dallas_paul
dallas_paul

 @t7pm Perhaps you should look up the phrase "lame duck" before posting.

dallas_paul
dallas_paul

 @TheCredibleHulk The name "God particle" comes from Lederman's book of the same name, a title from his publisher that he grudgingly agreed to. The book was published after the vote to defund the SSCL, and thus had no bearing at all in the decision.

 
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