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As a massive atom smasher powers up, 'Big Science' moves away from the US

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Why should US taxpayers fund such projects? The arguments for spending on big science are similar to those of funding space missions: The effort to do cutting-edge physics research produces unexpected technological breakthroughs with everyday applications. For example, the World Wide Web was spawned by high-energy scientists at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research) trying to find a way to send graphics and other data to their colleagues elsewhere who used different computer systems. Accelerator technology has been adapted to make computer microchips. And there are now medical diagnostic and therapeutic tools, such as proton-beam therapy, that have emerged from this research.

In fields such as cosmology and high-energy physics, researchers are tackling profound questions about the origins and nature of the universe from the smallest to the largest scales. But they acknowledge that the experiments needed to address cutting-edge questions are getting too big and too expensive for any one nation to afford.

Over the years, a network of different but complementary world-class physics labs have emerged in different regions.

Europe built the LHC’s predecessor, the Large Electron-Positron Collider. Japan built its so-called "B Factory" for indirectly probing particle interactions at energy levels higher than the accelerator itself could attain. And the US had important experiments running at the Stanford Linear Accelerator and at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Ill. Fermilab’s "Tevatron" is currently the world’s most powerful accelerator.

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