BOSTON — NOW that they have lost the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), American particle physicists have to look for global partnerships to continue their work.
``The message we've got - and appropriately I think - is to go international,'' says Stanford University Prof. Sidney Drell. Dr. Drell, who has been one of the architects of United States physics research policy, adds that international cooperation ``has been long due in this field.''
Physicists seeking to uncover the basic nature of matter and its underlying forces have worked happily at each other's research centers. But they also have cherished the rivalry between centers.
Now the cost of research is too great to support this rivalry.
This is the main reason that a House-Senate conference last week killed the collider project. Its $11 billion cost was more than any one nation - even the US - could bear. The conference did provide $640 million to shut down the program.
The US had sought international participation in the SSC. There was little response. Other nations were reluctant to join a program managed largely by one nation. Presidential science advisor John Gibbons has called this a major mistake. He explains that to succeed, such costly projects must be true international partnerships from the start.
The collider being built at Waxahachie near Dallas was to smash protons together at near-light speeds. Physicists expected these interactions to shed light on such basic questions as why matter has mass. Drell warns against losing ``the knowledge that has been built up and the [research] momentum that has been built up.''
European physicists have the same concern as they wonder whether member nations will proceed with plans to built a similar, although less powerful, proton collider at the European particle physics center (CERN) at Geneva. Here, too, costs encourage planners to look for overseas partners.
Drell notes that American physicists can bring a great deal of design knowledge to a partnership with the highly experienced team at CERN. ``We have quite a bit [of knowledge] to build on'' from the SSC, he says.