Supercollider plan still courts doubts

By Holly Schubert

Although proponents for building the Superconducting Supercollider in Batavia, Il. claim support for their project is growing, there are still some skeptics of the SSC’s locating there.

The SSC is a research laboratory which collides protons against protons at high energy levels, reproducing conditions occurring immediately following the “big bang.”

Rick Fenner, acting public information officer for Fermilab, said scientists will observe subatomic particles emitting from the collisions and publish the results.

The SSC will use a 53-mile ring of superconducting magnets, shaped like a race track, which collides protons at 20 TeV (trillion electron volts) on 20 TeV, Fenner said.

When the protons collide with protons, the amount of energy is the same as occurs when a match is lit, he said.

“It’s a huge laboratory that has nothing to do with nuclear reactors, bombs, weapons, or Star Wars (Strategic Defense Initiative).

The basic research that goes on there creates spinoffs,” Fenner said. He points to work done with cancer treatments as an example of knowledge gained from research with protons and neutrons.

Illinois is competing with Texas, Michigan, Tennesee, North Carolina, Colorado, and Arizona for the SSC. The U.S. Department of Energy is scheduled to announce a preferred site for the SSC in November, and the next U.S. president is expected to announce the final site in January.

The project is expected to cost between $4_6 billion throughout the 8-year construction of the project, Fenner said.

NIU Student Association Senator Mike Goldstein said that although he is in favor of the SSC, he is against its location in Illinois. “It’s (SSC) a needed research tool, and the ideas behind it are sound, but I’m against it in Illinois,” he said.

Goldstein acknowledged that the existing ring at Fermilab could be used, which would defray costs, but he cited the state’s financial practices and the displacement of many area residents as reasons against placing the SSC in Batavia.

“The state of Illinois will bend over backwards to provide financial incentive to put the conductor here, but they won’t commit money for higher education. It seems hypocritical,” he said.

Goldstein said that if NIU and Fermilab had a stronger relationship, he would be more in favor of its placement in Illinois. “What guarantee do we have that people employed at the lab will come from Illinois? The higher-paid technical jobs might not even come from this area. Right now, I don’t see much clear benefit,” he said.

Illinois Representative John Countryman, R-Ill., said he is supportive of the project. He has attended meetings concerning the SSC and is keeping in contact with Congressman Dennis Hastert’s, R-Ill., office which is working actively to bring the SSC to Illinois. Countryman said he is willing to do whatever is necessary, and appropriate to help the cause.

The SSC Project Office is circulating petitions supporting the locating of the SSC in Batavia. Latest figures released by the office said that more than 31,300 area residents have signed the appeal. A spokesperson for the office said the project office will continue efforts to educate area residents and obtain petition signatures through booths at county fairs and festivals.