The LHC and the SSC

We should all celebrate the first beam in the LHC. This event indeed marks a new era of scientific discovery. At the same time many of us may look back wistfully at what might have been.

In May of 1982, Leon Lederman assembled a small group of people in a small office on the second floor of the High Rise. First beam in the Tevatron was still a year away. While the Tevatron was a daring first use of superconducting magnets in a large accelerator, those of us around the table that day had no doubt that it would be successful. Bob Wilson and Dick Lundy were there. (I was there as Lundy’s deputy at the Technical Support Section where the Tevatron magnets were being built.)

Leon had big plans on his mind. He asked us to think about how we would design a really big machine that would make bold leap to a new physics frontier. We now knew how to build the magnets. We just needed to scale up the Tevatron by a factor of ten. The next month at Snowmass, Leon revealed his dream to the community. I remember these as heady, exciting times. We worked obsessively, day and night, during those weeks at Snowmass, turning Leon’s dream into something that could actually be built. As the same time, huge new detectors were being designed for the energies and luminosities envisaged for this marvelous machine.

For the next 11 years we worked hard to realize the SSC. Using the Tevatron experience, we designed better, cheaper magnets. A site was selected, tunnels started, concrete poured, and magnets tested. We made countless trips back and forth to Berkeley, home of the SSC Central Design Group, and to Waxahachie.

Then…in October of 1993 it all came crashing down. Congress voted to terminate the project. The future of US leadership in high energy physics lay in the wreckage of the SSC.

The success of the LHC is a great victory for science. Although I am happy for the LHC, I am also sad about what might have been.

–Paul Mantsch

Paul Mantsch is project manager for the Pierre Auger Observatory.

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