Super Collider's legacy lives on in Switzerland

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by DAVID SCHECHTER

Bio | Email | Follow: @davidschechter

WFAA

Posted on March 22, 2011 at 10:01 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 24 at 1:50 AM

Did Congress kill the golden goose?

The massive Superconducting Super Collider project was supposed to be built in a 54-mile circular underground cavern near Waxahachie, but it fell victim to federal budget cuts almost two decades ago.

Some people argue that had it survived, the Super Collider would have spawned new ideas, industry, investment — and jobs in North Texas.

But the Super Bowl of science projects has moved on without us, taking its economic benefits with it.

The Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland makes so many big claims it would, no doubt, fit right in here in Texas.

It is the largest machine in the world — over 16 miles long.

It operates the most powerful computer in the world.

And the LHC is on the verge of making one of mankind's most important scientific discoveries.

SMU physics professor Dr. Ryszard Stroynowski, who shuttles between Dallas and Geneva, is a key player in the search for a single particle that — if discovered — could fundamentally explain how our universe works.

"I haven't been in such a state of anticipation ever since I was a student, some 40-some years ago," he said.

But it's been a long road. Stroynowski came to SMU in 1991, when the Superconducting Super Collider was under construction in Ellis County. The project was designed for similar research until it was killed by Congress in 1993 to help balance the budget.

When the SSC closed down, some of the brightest minds in science flocked to the LHC project in Geneva.

"In general, the closure of the labs have cost the United States science industry a pre-eminence," Stroynowski said.

But it's not just about science.

The facility in Geneva attracts some the world's smartest people — including people who invented the Internet and cloud computing.

Many stay to build businesses based on their innovations, something that never happened in Waxahachie.

"I'm pretty sure that there would be quite a substantial development of high tech industry here," Stroynowski said.

Still, the professor would much prefer to look forward than back.

He said the students and staff in his SMU lab are playing a prominent role in the Geneva research, which is good for the university's reputation in science — and good for them, too.

"It's enormous exposure for young, talented people," Stroynowski said. "And it attracts people who become very ambitious."

In Geneva, there are two international teams of thousands of scientists competing to see who can find the mystery particle that could unlock the secrets of the universe.

Professor Stroynowski doesn't want the other team to be first. "Well, we're trying not to let it happen," he said, "but I'm sure they do also."

After, waiting for so long to uncover the fundamental laws of nature, second place is not an option.

E-mail dschechter@wfaa.com

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