The superconducting supercollider, a giant circular particle accelerator 54 miles in circumference under construction near Waxahatchie, Texas, is a classic example of the kind of "big science" project scientists hope will enable them to unlock the deepest secrets of the universe.
Whether the machine will live up to its promise is uncertain, however. Even if it does, it will have done so at the cost of other research with more immediate, practical applications. Meanwhile it will have added $8 billion to an already bloated federal budget deficit, and probably much more when all its costs are taken into account. Given the parlous state of the economy and so many other pressing needs, it's hard to justify the massive investment the device requires at this time.
The House of Representatives came to the same conclusion in June when it killed the project as unaffordable. But last week the Senate revived it by earmarking $550 million for the supercollider as part of a $22 billion energy and water projects appropriations bill. A House-Senate conference committee will try to sort this one out.