It's been two decades since Congress killed the Superconducting Super Collider. Had the $11 billion project been completed, it would have become -- and would still be -- the largest and most powerful particle accelerator in the world, and Waxahachie of all places would be the global epicenter of particle physics research.
Instead, the federal government wound up spending $2 billion to build a 14-mile hole beneath Ellis County, and the Higgs boson was discovered several hundred feet below Switzerland.
Scientists, though, have never quite abandoned the ambition that led them to envision the SSC, which explains why a group of them at Texas A&M (plus one from Michigan State University), are suggesting reviving the project as "Higgs Factory," which would be complemented by a 270-kilometer (167.8-mile) hadron collider.
That's 10 times larger, and more than 10 times as powerful, as the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It would encircle the entire city of Dallas.
They provide a couple of main reasons why such a ridiculously audacious plan might be workable. For one, the first tunnel is halfway dug; scientists could partner with the state of Texas to get it finished.
With that in place, the A&M physicists argue that adding the 270-kilometer hadron collider would be relatively cheap, at least compared wtih building a comparable facility in Europe. The rock in North Texas is chalky and much easier to bore through than the rock that underlies the Alps. The actual digging would cost about a sixth as much here.
"So," an article in Ars Technica explains, "you could get a larger tunnel for the same price as you would by digging around Geneva. With a larger tunnel, you don't have to have magnets that are nearly as strong to keep the protons curving around the circumference to get to the 50TeV speeds CERN is thinking about. The cheaper magnets offset the cost of tunneling.
"Of course, you'd probably need more liquid helium to cool that much more hardware, which would make operating it more expensive than the CERN plan. The authors, however, note this just once and never mention it again."
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While the prospect of subatomic particles hurtling at incredibly high speeds below North Texans' feet is, in a word, awesome, there's nothing to suggest this is anything more than a scientists' pipe dream.
Here's Ars Technica again:
[T]he trend in the US toward budget cutting has meant that the country is an extremely unreliable partner for large international scientific endeavors (like the European Space Agency and the ITER fusion reactor). Something like this would take years to build, and the US budgeting process hasn't demonstrated that sort of attention span in recent years.
Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.