Tevatron closes Friday, big American science dies a little inside

Remember back when we were willing to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money in the name of discovery? The Tevatron particle accelerator was one of those epic science projects, and along with the space shuttle, it's retiring this year as big American science falls victim to budget cuts and apathy.

When it was completed in 1983, the Tevatron particle accelerator was one of the most powerful machines ever constructed. Two giant accelerator rings buried under Illinois accelerated protons and anti-protons at energies of up to 1 teravolt and smashed them together, pulling pieces of the fabric of our universe out of the resulting subatomic debris. In 1995, the Tevatron discovered the Top Quark, a massive particle that's one of the fundamental constituents of matter.

Shortly after the completion of the Tevatron, the U.S. started planning an even larger particle accelerator called the Superconducting Supercollider, which would have been 40 times more powerful using accelerator rings with a circumference of over 50 miles. It was never completed.

On Friday, the Tevatron will be shut down, since CERN's Large Hadron Collider has more or less taken over when it comes to high energy particle physics. The floundering economy and the politicization of science has meant that there's increasing reluctance to fund major research that doesn't have immediate and tangible benefits, and the SSC and the space shuttle program are both victims of this harsh climate. But it's important that we continue to look beyond the next election cycle, and continue to invest in our scientific future. Not only is it mind-expanding and inspirational to do so, but nobody knows what new and life-changing technologies might be waiting to be discovered. We just have to actually go out and, you know, discover them.

Tevatron, via Physorg

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