Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider (Paperback)

Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider By Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb Cover Image
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Starting in the 1950s, US physicists dominated the search for elementary particles; aided by the association of this research with national security, they held this position for decades. In an effort to maintain their hegemony and track down the elusive Higgs boson, they convinced President Reagan and Congress to support construction of the multibillion-dollar Superconducting Super Collider project in Texas—the largest basic-science project ever attempted. But after the Cold War ended and the estimated SSC cost surpassed ten billion dollars, Congress terminated the project in October 1993.
Drawing on extensive archival research, contemporaneous press accounts, and over one hundred interviews with scientists, engineers, government officials, and others involved, Tunnel Visions tells the riveting story of the aborted SSC project. The authors examine the complex, interrelated causes for its demise, including problems of large-project management, continuing cost overruns, and lack of foreign contributions. In doing so, they ask whether Big Science has become too large and expensive, including whether academic scientists and their government overseers can effectively manage such an enormous undertaking.

About the Author

Michael Riordan has taught the history of physics and technology at Stanford University and the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of The Hunting of the Quark and coauthor of Crystal Fire and The Shadows of Creation.

Lillian Hoddeson, the Thomas Siebel Professor Emerita of the History of Science at the University of Illinois, is coauthor of Crystal Fire, Critical Assembly, True Genius, and Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience.

Adrienne W. Kolb was, until her retirement in mid-2015, the Fermilab archivist. She is coauthor of Fermilab: Physics, the Frontier, and Megascience.

Praise For…

"The termination of the Superconducting Super Collider project in 1993 sent more than US$10 billion down the drain and left the US high-energy-physics community reeling. In this in-depth tome on that “epochal transition”, science historians Riordan and Hoddeson, with Fermilab archivist Kolb, cover all the bases leading to that bitter end—which, they conclude, was down to a “cold-war mindset” and the untenable cost of going it alone."
— Nature

"Tunnel Visions, a nearly three-decade writing project, describes the birth and death of the SSC. The authors...illuminate the serious problems that led to the 1993 congressional vote to terminate the SSC. Because of my personal ties to the field and to the national lab community, I enjoyed the play-by-play account in Tunnel Visions. The SSC has lessons for all who advocate the public funding of science."
— Physics Today

"Most good science stories are tales of discovery and success, but failure can be just as riveting. Here two historians and an archivist describe the greatest particle physics experiment that never was. The Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a planned 87-kilometer ring in Texas, would have crashed protons together at higher energies than any accelerator before or since, dwarfing even the current Large Hadron Collider at CERN, where the Higgs boson was discovered. But in 1993 Congress pulled the plug on the more than $10-billion project because of cost overruns, mismanagement and changing political tides. Tunnel Visions examines what went wrong and what lessons the failure of the SSC can impart in an era when such Big Science projects are increasingly central to scientific research."
— Scientific American

"Tunnel Visions is an engaging history of the rise and fall of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), a proton accelerator being built south of Dallas, Texas.  The project was canceled in 1993.  Riordan, Hoddeson, and Kolb drew upon oral histories of key participants, archival material, and press accounts to explore the reasons for the failure of this basic science enterprise, which was by far the largest and most expensive ever undertaken. Highly recommended."
— Choice

"Riordan, Hoddeson and Kolb are experienced US historians of science....their book is based partly on oral interviews with more than 100 participants in the SSC project, including politicians, political advisers, physicists, and science journalists. Other facts are drawn from published statements dating from the 1970s to the present, or from the many archive of unpublished evidence. It is not the first history of the SSC, but it is likely to be the last word on the subject. Tunnel Visions will unquestionably be vital reading for anyone interested in the complications of funding “big science,” especially projects requiring international contributions."
— Physics World

“Although there are other published reflections about the SSC, the book Tunnel Visions deserves readers’ attention because of the prolonged efforts of Riordan, Hoddeson, and Kolb. The historians not only witnessed the rise and fall of the gigaproject but also conducted and critically analyzed about one hundred interviews into the fate of the SSC. It seems gargantuan projects in physics are not impossible nowadays. The authors, by giving CERN as an example, argue that, nevertheless, in order to succeed, these giga-projects have to be organized in a way completely different from those in the past. A Big Science project of the XXI century can no longer be the exclusive fantasy of a visionary; it must be a multifaceted global enterprise of social and political proportions. That requires society as a whole to determine the worth of knowledge. And to figure out who will pay for its pursuit.”
— Endeavor

"Precise and exhaustive...A down to earth story of the national pride, good physics and bad economics of one of the biggest collider projects in history."
— The CERN Courier

"This work represents the culmination of a multi-decade effort to document and analyze the last chapter in the saga of US high energy physics that began with the efforts of Ernest Lawrence in the 1930s and ended with the cancellation of the SSC in 1993. The authors of Tunnel Visions, all veterans of earlier successful attempts to chronicle the development of high energy physics, were well situated and adequately supported to perform the postmortem of this colossal project. There are many lessons to be learned from the SSC, and Tunnel Visions provides a broader perspective from which to view this saga of superconducting super colliders."
— Physics in Perspective

"Tunnel Visions is a detailed and engaging account of the development of the superconducting supercollider, one of the largest scientific undertakings in the United States....Tunnel Visions must also be commended for its combination of social, cultural, and political factors within the context of the history of science. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in the national funding of science in the United States."
— Journal of American History

"Tunnel Visions is the story of the national and international maneuvers to take the next big step in particle accelerators that had brought a string of Nobel Prizes to scientists in the U.S. and Europe: the Superconducting Super Collider. Though specialists will find much here of value, no specialized knowledge is necessary to find the story of the rise and fall of the SSC project fascinating. Focusing on the scientific, technical, and political conflicts that led to delays, ever rising costs, and eventually the SSC’s cancelation by Congress, Tunnel Visions is a true techno-thriller."
— Burton Richter, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics

"The sad history of the SSC has now been told in full in a long-awaited book, thoroughly researched and enlightening. The authors have synthesized their findings in a compact, engaging, and impressively frank narrative. While much has been written about the SSC, this is the definitive account. Tunnel Visions is worth the attention of all scientists, science administrators, and indeed everyone who wants to know how pioneering science may—or may not—be conducted in our times.”
— Spencer Weart, Director Emeritus of the AIP Center for History of Physics

"Riordan, Hoddeson, and Kolb meticulously piece together how regional and budgetary politics, mismatches between technical cultures, sniping from condensed-matter physicists, and administrative blindness by high energy physicists gradually turned the SSC, in Congress’s eyes, into a monstrous, unsupportable boondoggle. Tunnel Visions is a layered, insightful story of a grand failure—and one of the first great histories of American physicists’ painful transition into our post-Cold War world."
— Cyrus C.M. Mody, Rice University

"Most of books and articles written about the SSC's history are lacking detail and more frequently were simply dead wrong. My perspective of the SSC is first hand as an employee from the very beginning to the bitter end. I have been waiting a long time for an accurate accounting of the project and a source for answering some of the nagging questions of why the project failed. Tunnel Visions is the only complete rendering of information related to the Supercollider project and most important (and surprising), is the depth of information the authors managed to find and successfully interpret. I did not believe it would be possible to find the information let alone understand the nuances of the critical factors that led to the creation and demise of the SSC. This is a must rea” for anyone interested in the SSC or how such a large and important science project can fail. This is the book that finally put the period on the end of the SSC sentence."
— Greg Chartrand, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

"Physicists create particle collisions so they can sift through the debris for clues to how nature is put together. The authors of Tunnel Visions see the SSC’s demise as a saga of colliding communities, which they sift through for clues to understand the interactions involved in large scientific projects. This book raises important questions about how to build, coordinate, and manage the network of leaders, administrators, overseers, and congressmen needed for large scientific projects in the 21st century—and about how this network, if ruptured, can be repaired. This is a fascinating, well-researched account of a turning point in American science."
— Robert Crease, Stony Brook University

"As Riordan, Hoddeson, and Kolb convincingly argue, changing political priorities, poor management, and budgetary problems led to the demise of the SSC. Drawing on over one hundred oral history interviews, extensive archival materials, and government documents, the authors’ analysis of this failure in 'Big Science' fills an important gap in the existing literature—rarely do historians delve with such depth into unsuccessful (and expensive!) projects."
— Isis
Product Details
ISBN: 9780226598901
ISBN-10: 022659890X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: September 28th, 2018
Pages: 480
Language: English