Physicists explore abandoned American supercollider


In the early 1990s, the United States was set to build a particle accelerator even larger and more awesome than the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. Naturally, Texas was chosen as the location for such a super-sized project. The first structures had been built, and digging had begun on the tunnels that would house the accelerator itself, when, in 1993, the funding situation got awkward. Forced to choose between building the International Space Station or building the biggest, baddest particle accelerator in the world, America picked the ISS.

How big was this particle accelerator? Big enough that the cancellation of the project apparently sent the southern part of Dallas/Fort Worth into a mini-recession.

Since 1993, the facility has sat abandoned. The buildings were emptied of most of the expensive equipment. The access shafts that led to the tunnels were filled in. This month, during the American Physical Society meeting in Dallas, several young physicists snuck away to explore what's left of the Superconducting Super Collider. At the Physics Central blog you can see lots of great photos from their adventure, as well as "before" shots of what the facility looked like before the funding vanished. Cool stuff!

Submitterated by Eric Z Goodnight


  1. The cubicle farm I work in is constructed of walls and desks taken from the SSC.

    Legend around here has it that the desks and the keys to open the desks showed up at different times.. so for the first year or so, no one could lock (or unlock) their cabinets or drawers. Eventually a giant bag of keys was delivered.. with no numbers on them to match with locks. Some poor bastard had to test every key manually to find its match.

  2. This was cancelled for lack of about 6 billion dollars. (Maybe more, maybe less, depends on who you ask.)

    It always makes me sad inside to hear about greater sums of money, and how little people seem to care about them today. Like “The war in Iraq costs 9 billion dollars a month” or “Goldman Sachs gave out 20 billion in bonuses in 2010”.

    1. Well yeah, but we *need* those things. What’s a supercolliderwhatsit going to do for me? Sodamn Insane had nucler weapons, pointed AT MY HEAD! when he flew planes into 911 and we fixed his little red wagon. Besides, ain’t Europe got one anyway? Spending money on science and knowledge isn’t going to bring America back to the top of the heap, religion and Dancing With the Stars will!

      1. McCrum, if you were a woman, I’d marry you.

        And if you are, what’s your ring size? :P

        I posted an almost identical rant to friend’s FB this week on a similar subject.

        1. Teehee! Sorry man, we’re going to have to go to Massachusetts to get hitched. And even then I’ll be cited for bigamy and my wife will punch me. Hard.

          Seriously though, I know it’s always been uncool to be smart but it seems like the general public has just gone too far these days down the road of Fear Knowledge. Is it because knowing things is hard and there’s Kardashians to watch?

        1. I try to be in touch with the common zeitgeist.

          Of course, using zeitgeist in a sentence immediately identifies me as someone out of touch with the current zeitgeist…

  3. Years ago, I was at a knifemaker’s hammer-in down in Alabama, and one of the vendors was selling bits of the superconducting wire (mostly niobium, but also other stuff explosively bonded together)as stock for guards, pins, and other fittings. I’d have bought some for the geek value, but it was sadly out of my price range at the time.

  4. Is this the facility that Tribe wrote the song “Supercollider” about?

    ./~ Goodbye Princeton, goodbye CERN / He’s gone to Texas to watch the holy fire burn ./~

  5. I was in Austin, Texas for grad school in physics at the time. I remember the excitement about this project though having debates among other physics students whether the cost really would be worth it.

    Funniest memory: a newspaper article with a comment from a local Waxahachie rancher saying “We’ve gotta find the Higgs Boson!”

  6. Please. The proper name to use was not SSC but rather The Ronald Reagan Center for High Energy Physics.

    If it’s all filled with water now, one wonders what kind of ecosystem is there. Three-eyed blind cave fish?

  7. What is that ghostly ribbon that looks like it’s spiraling down the hallway? I looked at a bigger image and couldn’t figure out what it is. Is it some illusion caused by light and shadow?

    1. Long exposure shot, swinging a flashlight while running down the hall.

      -Brown/blue sweater and jeans

  8. Humorbot 5.0: So I says, “Super collider? I just met her.”

    (Also, IvyMike, you killed my Uncle Amata Kabua!)

  9. “Forced to choose between building the International Space Station or building the biggest, baddest particle accelerator in the world, America picked the ISS.”

    I would like to offer my view on this – When forced to choose between spending on military (NATO readiness to enter a campaign in Bosnia) or spending on a large, expensive project which would provide no obvious-to-a-united-states-congresscritter benefits, the United States Congress voted to cancel funding for the SCSC. There was also pressure from religious fundamentalists, for whom any diversion of funds away from making Texas and/or the United States a theocracy was unjustifiable.

    Also, no kidding, in the debate it was mentioned multiple times that CERN already existed, why would we build another particle collider.

    “Big enough that the cancellation of the project apparently sent the southern part of Dallas/Fort Worth into a mini-recession.”

    No “mini” about it. The southern part of the D/FW metroplex remains, to this day, the poorest area in the region.

  10. I can’t see the picture at the top of this page because the filename is physicistSEXploring.jpg. Thanks a lot, work.

    1. It’s just two dudes on the ground pulling up some white siding to enter a building. The good photos are when you follow the link.

  11. I wonder how long before someone shows up with a forklift to snag those backup generators.

  12. That was a great choice. When I think of all the scientific advances that have come about from the ISS, I get tears in my eyes.

  13. so my dad had to find another job and my family had to move. this is why i grew up in alabama, but was forever reminded that i was truly a texan.

  14. this is so weird. A few years back I saw a post just like this on the exact same location. They even had before and after photos just like this.

    It was some kind of urban exploring site or a dead malls type site.

    If I find the link I will post it.

  15. I am actually from Waxahachie, TX. Born in 1983, I was in grade school as this was being planned and built, and it captured my imagination.

    I remember our school librarian had her and her husband’s dream home bought out from under them via eminent domain laws. Only to have the project closed, which happened soon after I moved away.

    It’s been a long journey, one that required 10 years to the Air Force, taking Intro Physics three times and Calculus twice, but recently I began work for Georgia Tech Research Institute, though I still need to get through the last of my undergrad coursework.

    I often wonder if you can calculate a dollar amount for how much it’s worth to inspire a single child. If inspiring me is the only good to have come from this, then I shall do my best to make up for the cost.

  16. “Big enough that the cancellation of the project apparently sent the southern part of Dallas/Fort Worth into a mini-recession.”

    Not apparently or mini…the neighborhood we lived in had about half the houses for sale when the project was cancelled. Many of them sat empty for months.

    I got a SSC t-shirt for something I did my senior year of highschool (91-92), wish I had held on to it.

  17. Does this place remind anyone else of the Black Mesa facility from the original Half Life? I had no idea that those maps were modeled on anything other than Valve’s imagination.

  18. It’s to bad none of you where actually there and felt the excitement of all the people at worked there. The collider was killed by a bunch of newly elected representatives in the House much as we have today. They were to stupid to comprehend what they were doing and today the country is paying for it. As our director said, it was the revenge of the “c” students. Now the damage to be done is the revenge of the idiot tea party type and the rest of the republicans who have no idea of what damage they are causing to the future of this country.

  19. Thank God that Dancing With the Stars will bring back America to the top! I’m working furiously on my Cha Cha steps as I type this.

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