Collider May Reveal Materials Which Make Universe/project Offers More Than Economic Benefits

Article excerpt

Until about four months ago, the proposed $4.4 billion superconducting super collider project had little meaning to most Oklahomans.

No wonder, state leaders - who would like to dedicate at least $1.5 million in state funds on the chance that a 16,000-acre site west of Kingfisher be named home to the gigantic research tool - have described the project in terms of its potential economic benefit.

But scientists who are urging the federal government to fund development of the new facility say the impact they are most concerned with is that which two proton beams will have on one another when they collide in the underground tube at the facility.

They speak of quarks, leptons, bosons, quantum gravity and the super unified theory with the same excitement that state officials talk about the project's estimated $11 billion economic benefit to the state selected to serve as its home.

Granted, state leaders have hit upon the immediately translatable portion of the project. Offer an economic boon of that magnitude to some of the agriculture and oil dependent states in the southwest and there is a good chance most folks will smile at the thought of 2,500 scientists milling about the chosen state because of the project - even if they don't speak the same language.

But the answers scientists seek through the exotic processes to be conducted in the 53-mile race track-shaped tube may not be so far removed from the answers some of the proposed lab's neighbors-to-be have sought at one time or another.

Dr. Joe Lach, experimental physicist, says he and his colleagues are still asking the same questions humans of all sizes and ages have asked for eons.

"I'm in this because I want to find out what the world is made of," says Lach, who currently conducts research at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory's Tevatron in Batavia, Ill.

A smaller version of the proposed super collider, Fermi Lab is a four-mile racetrack-shaped facility that speeds proton beams around in one direction in its underground tube at high speeds, smashing them into anti-protons careening toward them from the other direction.

As more than one physicist has put it, the process is something like banging two Swiss watches together to find out what is inside. By examining the cogs and works, one can figure out just what made it tick.

But unlike the Swiss watch, banging the two protons together is expected to reveal the very stuff of which the universe is made.

While the Fermi Lab uses protons and anti-protons, the object of the proposed super collider is to rotate two identical beams of protons in opposite directions, with one another as the ultimate target. During the ensuing explosion, computers would document the result and examine the particles that are released, similar to the Fermi Lab, but with potential for much greater usable energy.

The spark of energy that is produced when the particles collide is of a higher energy density - or temperature - than anything in the known universe, Lach says.

"Those temperatures do not exist in the universe. It's much higher than the temperature at the center of the sun. The only place that we know of that those temperatures existed was at the creation of the universe. …