Tunnel Visions: The Rise and Fall of the Superconducting Super Collider

Michael Riordan, Lillian Hoddeson, Adrienne W. Kolb

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingBook


The October 1993 termination of the Superconducting Super Collider by Congress was a stunning blow for the US high-energy physics community — and a watershed event in the history of Big Science. Tunnel Visions follows the evolution of this multibillion-dollar basic scientific project from its origins in the Reagan Administration’s military buildup of the early 1980s to its post-Cold War demise a decade later. Obtaining support for this expensive project required physicists to make uncomfortable compromises and enter unfamiliar alliances with Department of Energy officials, Texas politicians and businessmen, and partners from the military-industrial complex. The billions of taxpayer dollars needed to build the SSC came with a level of public scrutiny few physicists had anticipated. The combination of this attention, ever-mounting SSC cost overruns, perceptions of mismanagement of the project by the physicists and DOE, and the lack of major foreign contributions were prominent factors in its termination. The book analyzes these and many other factors that contributed to the SSC’s demise, which occurred against the political backdrop of rapidly changing scientific needs as the United States transitioned from a Cold War footing in the early 1990s. Its death raises difficult questions about maintaining public support for such a large and expensive project during its lengthy construction period. Another important question is whether (and how) academic scientists and their government backers can manage such an enormous undertaking on their own. Comparisons with the successful European experience in building the Large Hadron Collider help to address these issues.
Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherUniversity of Chicago Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780226305837
ISBN (Print)9780226294797
StatePublished - 2015


  • supercollider
  • SSC demise
  • big science
  • Cold War
  • high-energy physics
  • Department of Energy
  • DOE
  • large project management
  • foreign contributions
  • international scientific cooperation


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