Heart of the Matter; December 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by John Horgan; 2 Page(s)
On this side of the Atlantic at least, these are anxious days for particle physicists. Letters in Physics Today and other journals agonize over the future of the field, and circumstances justify the anxiety. A poor economy has kept the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) teetering on the edge of political death. Many physicists fear that their discipline, lacking experimental results from ever higher energies for guidance, may become lost in a mathematical wasteland.
Yet there are signs of vitality. On October 4 the Department of Energy announced its intention to build a facility at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC) for probing one of the fundamental mysteries of modern physics, a phenomenon called CP (for charge parity) violation. The $200-million instrument will not achieve anything like the energies necessary for revealing the SSC's most celebrated quarry, the fabled Higgs boson, which might explain why particles have the seemingly arbitrary masses they do. On the other hand, the planned Stanford facility may answer a question that is not exactly trivial: Why is there something rather than nothing in the universe? "It really is a beautiful set of experiments, and it is a cost-effective way to do them," says Stanley B. Kowalski of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who chaired a committee that advised the DOE on its decision.