Super Collider: Steps to Reality

Article excerpt

Super Collider: Steps to reality

Long a dream, in recent years something of a plan, the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) is now poised to take on a certain political, organizational and physical reality. The coming fiscal year, 1988, will be "crucial' for the development of the giant proton accelerator and collider, Stanley J. Wojcicki of Stanford University, a member of the SSC Central Design Group, told SCIENCE NEWS in a recent interview. Particularly important, he says, is an appropriation of $10 million in construction funds, which along with $25 million more in research and development funds, is contained in the Department of Energy's (DOE) budget request for fiscal 1988.

As of the beginning of August, the House had passed the appropriation bill with the $25 million in research and development funds but without the $10 million in construction funds. (DOE sources say the omission was due simply to a semantic misunderstanding and hope the construction money will eventually be reinstated.) The Senate budget committee, however, has approved the appropriation bill with the $10 million construction funds. Several further steps in the Senate consideration process remain, as the Senate recessed without finishing consideration of the bill. If the $10 million in construction funds survives the full Senate process, the difference will presumably be one of the items to settle in a Senate-House conference.

The $10 million construction money may not be the largest part of the SSC's proposed appropriation, but it is psychologically important to the people planning the apparatus as a sort of moral commitment to the project by Congress, and the next step toward making the SSC a reality. Wojcicki says it would allow the Central Design Group to increase its staff and carry the work forward at an optimum rate, and one more or less in tune with the DOE's site selection procedure. Last week more than 200 members of the House introduced a bill declaring support for the authorization of the initial $35 million for the SSC and for future appropriations.

The U.S. government has moved toward a commitment to the SSC by small steps, and has done so unilaterally. Foreign physicists have complained sharply that the U.S. government did not come out up front and invite them and their governments to form an international association for the SSC like the one that governs the European CERN laboratory. Nevertheless, the U.S. government has invited foreign participation, although under the circumstances those governments are waiting for a firm U.S. commitment to build the SSC before committing themselves. On the other hand, some people in Congress apparently would like to see firm foreign commitments before committing the United States.

If there is to be foreign participation, that will have to be coordinated with developments in the United States, and that coordination will require an authority capable of negotiating and deciding. Wojcicki does not expect that foreign governments will simply send checks for certain amounts of yen or lire--Japan and Italy seem to be most interested now-- but will offer contributions "in kind.' He envisions, for example, the manufacture of magnets or other components in Japan or Italy.

Furthermore, experimenters are already designing the experiments they want to do at the SSC. As these will have to be built at the same time as the accelerator, there will soon have to be somebody empowered to decide what experiments will be done and in what order. For these and other reasons Wojcicki thinks DOE should soon set up a proper laboratory organization. …