According to its website, Waxahachie, Texas is known as the "Crape Myrtle Capital of Texas". What this community between Dallas and Fort Worth of roughly 30,000 should be is the home of the world's greatest particle accelerator, and the mother of scientific research.
A highly entertaining new documentary, "Particle Fever", tells the story of the birth of this massive, expensive, experimental structure, and the scientists who completed one of the world's greatest experiments.
The Large Hadron Collider, located at CERN, is roughly a 14-mile tunnel on the French/Swiss border. The collider is designed to hurl protons at each other at light speed in order to discover the "secrets of the universe." The film is fascinating, not only for the obvious results of the scientific discovery, but for the five or six passionate scientists the film follows.
CERN's address is in Switzerland; the collider was built from 1998 to 2008. It was originally supposed to be built in Waxahachie, which is covered in a small portion of this documentary that is directed by Mark Levinson. The project began construction in the early '90s, and some buildings were completed before funding was cut.
The price tag was originally $4.4 billion. It eventually went to $12 billion. U.S. Congress spent roughly $2 billion, built quite a bit of the project, and then it was over.
"(The one in Texas) was actually supposed to be much, much bigger than the one that was built," Levinson told me in a phone interview. "They had built about seven miles and then it was cancelled. It would have been 56 miles, and it would have been a huge change. Waxahachie would have been the center for researach discovery.
"But then (that stopped), and it eventually shifted to Northern Europe."
The problem for U.S. legislators who were trying to either justify, or kill, this project is, what is the economic impact of this thing?
"I don't know," Levinson said. "There is that scene in the film where an economist asks that very question to one of the researchers. It could be everything, or it could be nothing. This is a place that invented the World Wide Web. What is the economic impact of that?
Levinson, himself a physicist, got a bit lucky as he chronicled this project's evolution. There are natural elements of a story arc from the personalities to conflict to resolution the existed in this project that make for a compelling drama.
"There was the possibility that nothing was going to happen; I knew I could have a dud," he said. "But it ended up being a great story."
A story that should have been in North Texas.
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