DE SOTO, TEXAS-How do you attract scientists to a project that won’t yield its first results for 10 years? How do you build a research facility on a physical scale that has never before been attempted? How do you spend billions of federal dollars without incuning suffocating oversight and bureaucratic red tape?

The task of answering those and hundreds of other questions over the next decade will fall on the scientists who have signed on to build the Su perconducting Supercollider (SSC). They’re putting their professional reputations on the line for a project that is viewed by many people not just as a scientific challenge, but also as a test of the country’s ability to remain a preeminent technological power. And, given the size of those outside forces at work, they're not positive that they can succeed.

“Once in a while you think about how big this project is,” says...

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