Superconducting Super Loss

The proposed location for the largest supercollider ever built.
The proposed location for the largest supercollider ever built.

In the late ’70s, a supercollider was proposed to be built in Texas. At 54.1 miles around, it would be the largest ever built; beating the LHC by 37.1 miles! Unfortunately, the project failed due to budget concerns (rising from $4.4 billion in 1987 to $12 billion in 1993), so we will never see what could have been… but the tunnels that were dug still remain.

This project was an important element of our nation’s science program and its termination is a serious loss for the field of high energy physics.

President Bill Clinton

Contruction of the tunnel
Construction of the tunnel

After closing down the project, the land, buildings, and tunnels were given to their home Ellis County, Texas. Tensions were high since $2 billion had already been spent on the project. No government official wanted to see that money wasted. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex) made a comment which combined the opinions that the collider needed to close, while still expressing that such a thing is important to build:

This member of congress is not going to attempt to revive the super collider at this hearing or any other hearing in this congress. This member of congress is going to attempt to make sure the money that’s been spent has some positive use and that we don’t do something counterproductive this year that forecloses the opportunity at some point in the future to revisit the issue of building a super collider

The question now was… what to do with the property. For a decade, Ellis County attempted to find buyers for the property. One large possibility was a vote to sell the property to Neimann Trading International Corp. who would in turn create a large scale film studio. When that failed, the county attempted the same pitch but this time with Sage Entertainment. This failed as well…

The Bahnhof underground data center. Photo by Antony Antony
The Bahnhof underground data center.
Photo by Antony Antony

With the rise of computing, they began pitching the location as a potential data center site. Underground, protected from the elements… a perfect fit. But as they continued to get no buyers, the locals were worrying what may happen and some people online began theorizing that the project was intentionally cancelled so that it could be used as a secret government base of some sort!

The Magnablend warehouse in Waxahachie, Texas explodes in 2011. Photo via NBC-DFW
The Magnablend warehouse in Waxahachie, Texas explodes in 2011.
Photo via NBC-DFW

Finally, Ellis County found a buyer: Magnablend, a chemical manufacturing company that (just a few months earlier) had a plant explosion. In the wake of that disaster, those living near the collider site were incensed. A lot of those in the area make their living from farming, and a chemical spill or even slight leak from Magnablend could shut farms down. But amidst all the complaints, the plant was built starting in 2012.

Initial construction of the tunnels for the SSC
Initial construction of the tunnels for the SSC

Today, the tunnels continue to produce chemicals for a variety of companies and uses, but it will never be the supercollider it was intended to be. The larger the scientific project, the more difficult it becomes for a single nation to create it.

“There comes a time when the cost and effort of the next accelerator are so high that there may be no other way than world cooperation.”

-Victor WeissKopf, May 1984

This concept has been implemented with the Large Hadron Collider which was built with support from 21 nations in Europe. Colliders are not the only large-scale international research project, however, with the International Space Station being a prime example. It seems the best way for humanity to progress in learning, is to join with others. I hope we continue to do just that.

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