Technical problems plague Stanford’s Linear Collider, threatening its ability to produce breakthroughs in particle physics

Expectations were running high. For months, the Stanford Linear Collider (SLC), an innovative particle accelerator nearing completion at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Facility (SLAC) in Palo Alto, Calif. had been preparing for its debut. This was the machine that would mint a million Z0 particles a year. Close study of the Z0—it’s mass, for example—would answer key questions about the origin and fate of the universe. Laboratory management supercharged the already exuberant atmosphere by issuing news releases advertising the imminent birth of Z0 particles. The media was duly impressed. “For the first time in five years,” gushed the New York Times on July 19, “high-energy physicists in the United States are poised to seize a commanding lead from colleagues in Europe.”

No such luck. On June 24, the machine was switched on for what was...

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