Faster than light? Research will benefit America in ways we can't foresee

The news from the European Institute for Particle Physics is that Albert Einstein may have been wrong ("Faster than light", Sept. 23). The speed of light may not be insurmountable, and everything we think we know about the universe may be wrong.

Of course, we have no more idea of what it will mean to future generations than the first readers of Einstein's theories did. Did physicists 100 years ago envision nuclear medicine, atomic power, deep space travel or any of the thousand other ideas and inventions that grew directly or indirectly from Einstein's work?

For that matter, did the contemporaries of Newton, Gallileo or Copernicus understand how their ideas would benefit mankind hundreds of years in the future? Could we be on the verge of discovering how to travel in time or create instant communications? Alas, our future vision is not that good.

But hindsight, we are told, is perfect. So now is the time to re-examine a decision made by the U.S. to abandon the project called the SuperConducting SuperCollider a generation ago.

The SCSC would have been four times as powerful as the Large Hadron Collider currently being used by CERN scientists in Geneva. And while we have no way of knowing what we might have learned from the SCSC, the results at CERN show there is still much to learn about the universe — and that only those bold enough to fund the search for answers are likely to find them.

In 1993 we decided to invest in fighter aircraft, missile defense and a space station instead of an untested tool for doing basic scientific research. Today, the fighter is already obsolete, missile defense still doesn't work and the space station is a feel good, Cold-War relic that may soon be abandoned.

But the particle accelerator built by our European neighbors is just beginning to pay dividends that could continue for generations.

History tells us that nations that lead the world in science and intellectual pursuits also lead the world in security and prosperity. If the U.S. is to regain and maintain it's position of world leadership, we need to learn the lessons of Geneva and commit to invest in scientific research, both theoretical and applied.

In 1993, we decided we couldn't afford to invest in the unknown. In 2011, we should realize that we can't afford not to.

Mac Nachlas, Baltimore

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