Whatever Happened To The Superconducting Super Collider?

by Timothy Noah | December 13, 2011

The scientific world is in a state of high excitement over the prospect of finally isolating the Higgs boson, the subatomic "God particle" that gives, or conveys, or accounts for the existence of, mass. (I'm a little hazy on the details.) Scientists at the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva reported today that they think they glimpsed the elusive (and heretofore theoretical) particle, but they can't be sure.

It could have happened here if the United States had completed the Superconducting Super Collider, a $12 billion particle collider conceived in the early 1980s that was going to be bigger and faster than the Geneva facility. Construction began near Waxahachie, Texas, in 1991, but two years, $2 billion, eight buildings, and 14 tunnel miles later Congress decided that, given the project's escalating costs and a $255 billion budget deficit (in those days, that seemed like a lot), perhaps we ought to let the Swiss score this scientific breakthrough. Two decades later, it appears that they have.

The SSC, meanwhile, has suffered the fate of Ozymandias. Physics nerds periodically trek to the site and take depressing photographs of weeds engulfing the facility. The state of Texas unloaded the property years ago and now it's up for sale again ("on an 'as-is, where-is' basis") at the low, low price of $6.5 million. If you think the place has never been used, you're wrong. The 1999 film Universal Soldier: The Return, starring  Jean-Claude Van Damme, was filmed there; the SSC became (according to Dallas Morning News reviewer Tom Maurstad) "a high-tech secret lab" wherein Luc Devereaux ("killing machine by day, loving widower-father by night") does battle with an "evil computer ... with the unwanted assistance of a feisty and beautiful journalist." Maurstad concluded that while the "action scenes were fine," the "acting is an atrocity" and the whole thing is "strung together by some of the lamest dialog and weakest storytelling this side of an adult film festival." I wonder, though, whether Maurstad missed some ironic subtext about the quest for the Higgs boson. I don't see how else you can interpret this line from the Muscles From Brussels: "The only way is to blow them up and hope the pieces don't keep fighting us." (No, I didn't watch the movie. I just watched the trailer.)

 

The SSC was also the setting for Herman Wouk's 2004 novel, A Hole In Texas.

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