There are no doubt many reasons for the cancellation of the SSC. But looked at from our perch at 30,000 feet, I think none of these hold a candle to the double supernova that shook the whole of the physicists’ contract with the state: the Cold War ended. pdf
Access shaft and tunnel dug for the SSC. wikipedia
Gone, in the unexpected flash of a mallet on the Berlin Wall, was the complex set of assumptions that had made political symbolic sense of the progression from nuclear physics to weapons research to particle physics.
Concomitantly, with its comet-like rise, was a worldwide boon in biomedicine, biotechnologies and more proximately the reach of the American National Institutes of Health and, internationally, the rise of multinational pharmaceuticals.
Students began scrabbling for other ways to do physics, other fields to plough. It is instructive to see where they have gone.
Some have headed to astrophysics and cosmology which, in part through new systems of land- and space-based instrumentation, has enjoyed some of its most generative years ever, from maps of the microwave background through programmatic searches for gravity waves, exoplanets and gamma-ray bursts. Detectors, modes of analysis, forms of simulation and theories criss-cross back and forth between the very small of particle physics and the very large of the astrophysical.
Another site for joint work has been in the nanosciences where surface chemists, engineers, atomic physicists and biologists productively made common cause in hundreds of laboratories across the world. It is not just that they share a particular tool once in a while; no, the collaboration is much deeper. Experiments could not be done without the joint effort to produce certain macromolecules, instruments or systems, or to frame a problem in terms of one or another’s discipline’s standing intuitions. Even objects are shared: the nanotube to one collaborator is a molecule, to another a wire, to a third a switch.
See Carver Mead rewrites Maxwell with insight into coherent behavior in systems.
See Internet Physics where collective behavior in lasers and semiconductors find more utility than explosions in rockets and bombs.
See Where is my Flying Car for insight on how the very rich will travel in the near future.