IN Waxahatchie, Texas, 300 of America's leading high-energy physicists don't know if they should be thinking about subatomic particles or xeroxing copies of their resume.
The project on which they are working, the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), suffered a near-fatal blow this week when the House of Representatives for the second time this year refused to provide any funds for the giant atom-smasher.
Now Texas politicians and other supporters are regrouping to see if there is a way to rescue the controversial project.
Crews already have completed about 20 percent of the atom-smasher. The final price tag for the SSC, which was supposed to be completed by 2002, was estimated at $11 billion.
While House and Senate negotiators try to work out the project's future, 2,100 employees of the SSC are now in limbo, uncertain of when they will be officially terminated or get their final paychecks.
``The federal government made this commitment, and it forced people to make long- term career and financial decisions,'' complains Russ Wylie, director of external affairs for the SSC Laboratory. ``For the House to pull the rug out from under them, I don't think people are going to want to get into another long-term large science project, when the government's commitment is so meaningless.''
Asked about his own job prospects, Mr. Wylie replies, ``I don't know. Do you have any leads?''
The House's decision to cut off funding by an almost 2 to 1 margin was a blow not only to scientists but also to Texas politicians who have lobbied hard for the project.
The controversial SSC, which has cost federal taxpayers $1.6 billion since construction began, has been a hot topic of debate in Congress since June 1992, when the House first voted to kill funding for the 54-mile-long underground atom- smasher. The House voted again this summer to kill the project, but a victory in the Senate kept the project alive. Now, many observers believe the project cannot be revived.