Magazine article Management Today

Small Town Smash Up

Magazine article Management Today

Small Town Smash Up

Article excerpt

US plans for a new superconducting super collider to rival CERN may run into trouble, as the fundraisers themselves look set for collision.

Psst. Hey buddy! Got a little business venture here. Looking for a few savvy investors.

Where? just south of Dallas. Real estate's a bargain. Not much on it but a few head of cattle and a few zillion fire ants.

Oil? Fergit that old crud. What we thoroughly up-to-date wildcatters are looking to find in the Texas terra these days is Higgs bosons.

Never heard of 'em? Well, he", only the ivory tower boys have. Matter of fact, Higgs bosons might just be a figment of their imaginations. But we're going to spend a couple cool billion finding out. Believe me, bub, you want to be in on the ground floor of this deal...

Sound improbable? Well, get ready you chancellors of the exchequer, You ministers of finance, all you holders of the mOneY bags from London to TokYo and points in between. Uncle Sam wants You to invest Your pounds, your francs, deutschmarks, lira and rupees in a project that promises so little in the way of immediate Pay-offs it seems almost unAmerican.

It's called the superconducting super collider. It won't produce better bombs, faster rockets, smarter microchips, sharper TV pictures or an of the other high-tech amenities governments like to subsidise. Its main mission is to pulverise protons, creating debris of enormous immediate interest to no one except high-energy physicists, a small but influential cult whose work is too rarefied for most mortals to understand.

Undertand it or not a lot of people here seem impressed by it. The supercollider has enthusiastic backers, from Washington, where the Bush administration has vowed to come up with the megabucks needed to underwrite it to Waxahachie, where residents of the quaint Texas town around which the collider is to be built have recruited a superconducting super collider band. There is something about Americans that loves enormity, and the supercollider certainly epitomises that.

Dissecting the universe's tiniest particles will require the world's largest scientific machine. Completed, the collider will form a 54-mile circular tunnel, 35 feet underground. It will be lined with 10,000 superconducting magnets, the better to focus the streams of protons that the physicists intend to aim at each other in a subatomic demolition derby.

There are plenty of particle accelerators that do this sort of thing already, but none of them can smash atoms into quite such infinitesimally small smithereens. Twenty times more powerful than the largest accelerator now in existence, it will send Protons hurtling towards each other at velocities approaching the speed of light. The resulting collisions will pack a punch of 40 trillion electron volts.

That's a figure almost impossible for most of us to grasp. It represents so much energy that, in the words of supercollider laboratory spokesman Russ Wylie, 'it gets you pretty damn close to the Big Bang,.

A mini-reprise of the cataclysm that many believe created Our universe is just what the scientists are hoping to achieve with the collider. They think that's what it will take to break matter down to its most elemental building blocks - the Higgs boson, a particle postulated, but never yet observed, is believed to be one. By doing so, scientists think they can discover how, and of what, our world is made.

Breathtaking in its boldness the supercollider, then, aims at answering not practical questions but existential ones. …

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