"This project was an important element of our nation's science program," Clinton said after signing the bill. "And its termination is a serious loss for the field of high-energy physics."

Physics knew no politics. Physics persisted even as regimes fell. That was the cruel irony for Stroynowski. Here was a man who escaped an oppressive Communist government, finding refuge in elegant mathematical theories describing the laws of nature, only to become a casualty of budgetary politics, the very partisan machinations he tried to avoid all his life.

The cancelation sparked a mass exodus of physicists from North Texas. Some found academic positions. Some joined high-energy labs near Chicago, at Stanford and at CERN. Others left the field entirely. An esoteric specialty like high-energy physics certainly wasn't prepared to absorb hundreds of simultaneously out-of-work researchers. "I had a house in Dallas, and I lost all the equity," said Cas Milner, who had worked on the Super Collider for four years. "I had to take a check on the closing. I think in the modern parlance it's called being underwater."

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.

Academic positions were slow in coming, but Wall Street was ready to put Milner's mathematical talents to work.

Others, like Kaushik De, a Calcutta-born experimentalist, remained at the University of Texas at Arlington, now one of five supercomputing sites in the country crunching data from the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. He would eventually develop a system allowing physicists to access the computing power of thousands of supercomputing sites all over the world.

Stroynowski could not bring himself to leave the researchers he had attracted to SMU, or the grad students who had enrolled. His program went on to design part of the ATLAS detector at CERN. The collider produces astronomical amounts of data. Stroynowski's program created data links capable of transmitting enough information to fill the equivalent of 100 CDs per second, or a stack of them more than 12 miles high in a single day — the fastest anywhere in the world. He was also tasked with managing the design and construction of the liquid argon calorimeter, a fine structure of lead and stainless steel capable of tracking hundreds of millions of proton collisions each second. And out of those numbers beyond counting, they glimpsed the ephemeral conduit of the Higgs field, like a shadow on the wall with no form to cast it.

To an exacting scientific certainty, known as 5 sigma, they announced on July 4, 2012, that where we once believed there was nothing, something, in fact, exists.


Drive west from Waxahachie along a farm-to-market road if you want to see what the dried-out hull of a dream looks like. Follow it out past fields of maize and sunflowers ready for harvest, past grazing cattle and ranchettes set out on cleared pasture, subdivided after the collapse of the Super Collider, when all that land taken through eminent domain was thrown back into the county's lap. Before long, a collection of rectangular, gray buildings, some the length of two football fields, slide into view. Imagine, beneath all this greenery, a 15-mile catacomb light will never again touch slowly filling with water.

The asphalt drive leading into the complex is broken, and weeds grow through the cracks. A faded sign warns trespassers to "KEEP OUT" of a place few have bothered to enter in years. The inevitable march from order to decay has kept its grim pace; Stroynowski would call it entropy.

Just short of four years ago, the first proton beams raced down the 17-mile Large Hadron Collider in Geneva near light speed. It would take as many years to find the key to mass in the universe. It's tempting to imagine what physicists like Stroynowski could have found with the Super Collider, with the 10-year head start it could have given them. Who could possibly predict what else a machine three times more powerful than the accelerator in Geneva would find in those tiny flashes of ancient fire?

"The questions don't go away because the politicians say so," Stroynowski says. "Scientific questions remain, and if not us, somebody else will answer them."

The answers will never come from here, where men sweep stones from the cracked road, and others erect chain-link fencing around the complex's perimeter. MagnaBlend, a custom chemical manufacturer, recently purchased the site to replace its old factory, which burned in an October chemical fire that sent gouts of smoke floating over Ellis County. Here, they won't plumb the mystery of creation. They will mix, among other things, fracking fluids.

It's a fitting Texas ending to a story so unlikely it could have been fiction. Out on this back road, you will find the remains of the Super Collider, a monument to an inconceivable future.

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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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