December 18, 2012

World’s Largest Super Collider: Abandoned

Filed under: Big Bang, Black Holes, Cool, Gadgets, Government Policies — bferrari @ 10:46 am

A super collider is a large ring designed to accelerate particles of protons and anti-protons until they collide, the purpose being to create high amounts of energy.

In the mid 1980′s, the United States wanted to construct the largest particle collider in the world. What was to be called the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) began as an idea in 1983. By 1987 Congress had approved the $4.4 billion dollar budget for the project, and by 1991 a site had been chosen in Texas and construction began.

By 1993 the cost projection had risen to over $12 billion. With limited financial resources, the U.S. government was forced to choose between funding the International Space Station (ISS) or the super particle collider. Congress approved the ISS and on October 21, 1993, the SSCproject was cancelled. When the project was cancelled, 14 miles of tunnels and 17 shafts had already been dug, as well as all surface structures completed. Total spent: $2 billion.

After cancellation, the site was given to Ellis County, Texas. Numerous attempts to sell the property failed until 2006, when a private investment group purchased the property. It was rumored that there were plans to use the SSC as a tier III or IV data center, but today the property still sits derelict and abandoned. All of the collider equipment has been removed save for some underground generators in the tunnels.

Some might cite the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Switzerland as the largest particle accelerator in the world, and they would be correct if you’re using the “currently operating” caveat (the SSC is larger, but was never made operational). CERN LHC’s collision energy output of 14 TeV (Trillion electron-Volts) was dwarfed by the planned output of 40 TeV for the Superconducting Super Collider.

So why did construction of the LHC succeed where theSSC failed? Some point to LHC’s use of a property that already had tunnels. Excavating millions of tons of Earth proved to be the most expensive item during construction. Compounding the cost was the fact that the SSC was planning to be much larger than the Large Hadron Collider. The Superconducting Super Collider had to dig from scratch; the LHC did not have to dig tunnels, thus construction costs were lower (rumored to be about $5 billion USD).

The largest operating particle collider in the United States also happens to be the second largest in the world.  The Tevatron, completed in 1983 at a cost of $120 million, is located at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) in Illinois. The Tevatron was much smaller in scale; it only produced 1 TeV at maximum output.

UPDATE 10/2011: Unfortunately due to recent budget cuts, the Tevatron has ceased operations as of October. The costs associated with operating a collider – even on a smaller scale – outweigh the benefits in today’s budget landscape. The second-largest collider in the world is now the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider run by Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) in New York.



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