Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Super Colliders - What's the Big Deal?

All they were talking about on the radio this morning was the new 17 mile super collider built in Europe somewhere. I couldn't help but think about the 54 mile super collider, known as the SSC, partially built in Texas back in the 1980s and early '90s, that was never finished. If it had been finished, it would have been far more powerful than it's European counterpart. 14 miles had already been constructed when Congress cut off the funding for the Reagan-era science project in 1993. Billions had already been spent on the construction. To many, it was seen as a sign that America was losing ground in it's technological and scientific supremacy.

Others, however, saw it's defeat as a victory for taxpayers. If this scientific question needed to be answered, the market would answer it. It didn't cost billions of taxpayer dollars for Edison to develop the light-bulb. Edison invested his own time, money and energy, as the market allowed. Most innovation is done at the private level. Yes, taxpayers funded the space race, but that was a part of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The space race had a sense of national urgency. With the Cold War over, why should government fund an endeavour that bore no immediacy?

Basically, all the collider will do is prove theoretical concepts already accepted by many as fact. The colliders are searching for several particles as yet unseen by man. The most important of these is the 'Higgs' particle. If this "God Particle" is found by Europeans, it will be a matter of pride for them. It probably won't be an Earth-shattering event, but it will be an important step in science. It is also possible that the collider will create a small black hole. Still, these are concepts accepted by most scientists, already. Having a record of their existence will be important, but isn't completely necessary.

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