ARLINGTON -- In the world of high-energy physics, to borrow from Field of Dreams, if you build it, they may come.As an international group of high-energy physicists continues the long process of planning, securing a site for and raising the billions of dollars needed to build a powerful linear collider that would take subatomic particle experiments to the next level, they face the old big-science challenge of convincing the public that the potential but unguaranteed payoffs are worth the costs.The conflict between the value of knowledge and the value of practical applications helped doom the superconducting super collider near Waxahachie 19 years ago. It's a reality that physicists face again as they work to build a linear collider within 20 years.Despite the demise of the super collider Oct. 21, 1993, the U.S. was a strong contender to host the new linear collider as recently as 2007, said UT Arlington associate professor Jaehoon Yu, who co-organized a weeklong international conference on the subject that was held on campus last month. Now Japan may be the front-runner, after high-ranking officials expressed strong supportin December.Spinoffs from particle physics influence countless aspects of everyday life, supporters of the research say. They have led to major advances in cancer treatment, power transmission, homeland security and computing, among other things, the Energy Department's Office of Science says.In a lecture Oct. 24 at the University of Texas at Arlington, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg sought to explain the value of multibillion-dollar colliders. He used the example of electronics, a product of the 1897 discovery of electrons, which followed years of experiments with cathode ray tubes."If that question had been asked in 1890 of 'What are you going to learn from this?' no one would have been able to anticipate anything like that," he told an audience of about 1,200. "And you might have argued what people should be spending their time on or improving was steam boilers."What's the need?The average person might ask why the world needs another multibillion-dollar machine to seek the basic building blocks of nature.At the European Center for Nuclear Research near Geneva, scientists at the Large Hadron Collider announced July 4 that they had discovered what may be the Higgs boson, sometimes called the "God particle," which according to the Standard Model of particle physics gives other particles their mass.But the Large Hadron Collider, the largest and highest-energy particle accelerator, is about 30 percent smaller in size, and even smaller in power, than the defunct super collider, where protons would have traveled around a 54-mile underground oval to collide at 40 trillion electron volts. The LHC has been using 7 trillion electron volts, a measure of energy.The proposed International Linear Collider would smash together electrons and positrons to complement the work at the LHC by providing sharper detail of the collisions.The collider would be about 19 miles long and use 500 billion electron volts.After the decision not to build the super collider, project leader Roy Schwitters and other physicists met with members of the Texas congressional delegation, who asked them what could be done to ensure that the U.S. continued to support cutting-edge physics."We told them that if the SSC couldn't be built, getting support to participate in the LHC was the next best thing," Schwitters said Wednesday.Federal support for particle physics continues at the National Science Foundation and the Energy Department, though Schwitters said events like closing the Tevatron accelerator at FermiLab near Chicago last year further weaken U.S. physics contributions.A big impactU.S. particle physicists and those who came from overseas to join the super collider project weren't the only ones when political forces gathered to snuff out their dreams.The project's death had a big economic impact nationwide: More than 45,000 contracts had been awarded in 48 states, the Energy Department said in a July 1993 fact sheet.The collider created an estimated 7,000 jobs, notably in areas where the defense industry and military bases had suffered, the fact sheet says.In Texas, the development of restaurants, retail, hotels and more that would have accompanied the collider went down the drain with it, leaving southern Dallas County and northern Ellis County struggling to this day.U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, also remains disappointed. Opponents pointed out that the Cold War was over, so the U.S. need not invest so heavily in a theoretical project that might or might not contribute to the nation's technological and industrial strength."Not completing the SSC was an opportunity lost," Barton said. "Shortsighted policies and regional jealousy got in the way of scientific discovery. Sadly, that was one of the rare times that the U.S. said, 'We don't want to expand the frontiers of knowledge.'"It doesn't appear that the U.S. is ready to rush out and grab the International Linear Collider, either."At this point, it would be quite difficult for us to be the host of the ILC unless we have a strong political will to host one on U.S. soil without the yearly budget disruptions," Yu said. "Both of these conditions are very hard to accomplish. So given the current atmosphere, building the ILC on shore would be impossible."Weinberg says the work must go on, one way or another."The real motivation," he said at UTA, "at least the thing that at least motivates us, is that we're building a coherent theory of nature. ... It's something I think of which our civilization can be especially proud and it really has to continue."Online: www.linearcollider.org, www.acceleratorsamerica.orgPatrick M. Walker, 817-983-8080Twitter: @patrickmwalker1
Particle physics in everyday life
The University of Texas at Arlington is teaming with the Energy Department's Brookhaven and Argonne national laboratories to develop a universal version of a workload management system built to process huge volumes of data from experiments at the LHC.
The new project will bolster science and engineering research that relies on "big data," a priority recently promoted by the White House. The Energy Department's Office of Advanced Scientific Computing Research has awarded $1.7 million to Brookhaven and UT Arlington to fund the PanDA project over the next three years.
"PanDA has been an extremely useful piece of software. We could not have found the Higgs without it," said Kaushik De, a physics professor and director of UTA's Center of Excellence for High Energy Physics. "It's been used by thousands of physicists around the world. We thought, 'Wouldn't it be nice if we repackaged it so others could use it too?'"
UTA and Brookhaven developed PanDA for use by the ATLAS collaboration, a particle physics experiment at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva. ATLAS includes 3,000 physicists from 170 institutions including UTA.
The computing hardware associated with ATLAS is located at 100 computing centers worldwide that manage more than 50 petabytes, or 50 million gigabytes, of data. PanDA links the computing centers and allows scientists to efficiently analyze the tens of millions of particle collisions taking place at the LHC each day. In addition to De's work developing PanDA, UTA is home to the ATLAS Southwest Tier 2 grid computing center.
An estimated 7,000 major medical centers worldwide use accelerators to produce X-rays and particle beams to diagnose and treat disease. Over 30 million patients have benefited.
Particle detectors can monitor and analyze the cores of nuclear reactors. A prototype detector developed by physicists for experiments has shown potential for new monitoring technology.
Cables made of superconducting material carry far more electricity than conventional cables and with minimal power loss. This may be of high value in densely populated areas where underground copper transmission lines are near their capacity.
Biomedical scientists use particle physics technologies to decipher the structure of proteins, which helps in developing more effective drugs, such as Kaletra, one of the world's most-prescribed drugs to fight AIDS.
Sources: Energy Department's Office of Science, UT Arlington