I attended an interesting talk yesterday at MIT. Markus Klute talked about finding the Higgs boson and establishing its mass using the Large Hadron Collider at CERN. Klute mentioned that the Higgs boson would have been found during the Clinton Administration if not for the 1993 cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, whose Texas-sized dimensions would have enabled much higher energies than anything foreseeable in the LHC. A big challenge in making better accelerators, aside from physical size, remains the fabrication of the superconducting cables. Now that the Standard Model has been filled in, what’s the point of an experiment bigger and higher energy than the existing LHC? Professor Klute says that maybe we will be able to figure out Dark Matter/Energy.
[Pressed by an audience member to explain how funding these huge particle physics experiments is beneficial to an economy, Professor Klute was forced to resort to arguing that drawing really smart people (i.e., physicists) to a country would help that country when they quit to do other stuff (e.g., run the hedge funds and trading departments within investment banks that periodically melt down and require torrents of taxpayer cash). Certainly there does not seem to be an immediate market for Dark Energy. Comments from readers would be welcome if anyone can think of something that you can buy today that depends on understanding anything smaller than protons, neutrons, and electrons. Certain kinds of scanners for medical imaging? For finding radioactive material inside shipping containers? What?]