After ten years of planning and $2 billion in construction costs, US Congress canceled the dream project Supercollider for particle physics in 1993. Cynics often say that the role of the government is to transfer money from public to private sector through various mechanisms. Giant construction projects are often such vehicles. I am not a cynical person.I don’t agree with the cynics. The story behind the Supercollider project is a complicated one. But the most advanced nation on earth should not have canceled this important science project after spending 2 billion dollars in construction. In 1993 the projected cost of the Supercollider was 11 billion dollars. I know it is a lot of money. Critics of the project said that the nation could not afford 11 billion dollars but this great nation had to spend large sums of money (orders of magnitude larger that 11 billion dollars) on military conflicts since then. This great nation could certainly afford the Supercollider, there is no question about it. The leaders of that era failed the vision test.
It is true that the physics community was divided on this issue which did not help. It is also true that physicists could not explain the benefits of the particle physics to the public in an effective way. Perhaps the most important factor in the failure of the project was the fact that the Cold War was over. Particle physics has no military applications but it was funded well during the Cold War. Funding sources suddenly disappeared once the Cold War was over.
Europe built its own version of the Supercollider known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and emerged as the leader in particle physics. Europe is now the center of particle physics.
The article by Lizzie Wade and Nick Russell does a much better job than my emotional and biased ranting in explaining what happened : Who’s afraid of the Superconducting SuperCollider?
Here’s the New York Times articles about the cancelation of the Supercollider
A letter from Sergei P. Kapitza (Prof., Inst. for Physical Problems, Russian Academy of Sciences Moscow and Nobel Laurate) was published by NYT on Sept. 10, 1993. Prof Kapitza explains why it would be such a mistake to cancel the Supercollider project. He says Russia made the same mistake with its own accelerator project.
Herman Wouk, the acclaimed author of “The Caine Mutiny” and “The Winds of War” wrote a novel titled “A Hole in Texas,” which was inspired by the history of the superconducting supercollider. Princeton physicists aided him in writing the book.