Remarks to Science Honors Students on the Supercollider Program

 

March 30, 1988

 

Thank you, Dr. Weinberg. And thank you all very much, and welcome to the White House. It's a great pleasure to have so many present and future scientific pioneers in the Rose Garden with us today. Along with Members of Congress and the administration, we have no fewer than four Nobel laureates in the audience as well as many of the top science students from the Department of Energy's Science Honors Program. I'm tempted to paraphrase an earlier President who once said there's never before been so much talent assembled in one place in the White House since -- well, since I hosted the Washington Redskins on the South Lawn last month. [Laughter]

 

But the reason we're here, of course, is to talk about the superconducting supercollider, as you've probably guessed already. I have to confess that when I first heard about this place where things go round and round at great speeds and then crash into each other I thought they were talking about a Presidential campaign. [Laughter] At first I was a little nervous addressing so many distinguished scientists on a subject of such complexity, but then I realized these are people who spend their days talking about things called quarks, which some claim exist in two places at the same time. And I thought, why worry? [Laughter]

 

The fact is, I envy the students here today because they exist in a world that seems to put no limits on the imagination. Outer space used to be called the final frontier, but today we've begun to tap another frontier -- inner space -- whose infinitesimal constellations hold out infinite possibilities. It may be a cliche, but it's nevertheless true that the pace of progress is constantly accelerating. I think one of the reasons I've always had so little patience with those who talk about the limits to growth is that in my lifetime I've seen those limits shattered again and again by questing minds. When I was very young, horsepower was still the kind you fed with hay. Powered flight was still a relatively new thing. And before the turn of the century, we plan to have men living and working in stations in space and a new hypersonic plane that can fly from here to Tokyo in less than 3 hours.

 

I know that some people may question the practical applications of the superconducting supercollider. The strange world of subatomic particles they may think will never be more than an arcane interest to a few highly specialized scientists. But the truth is, the practical applications of this knowledge are already changing the way we live. One of my favorite examples is from the computer industry. One scientist describes the progress in that industry by making this comparison: ``If automotive technology had progressed as fast and as far as superconductor technology has in the last 20 years,'' he says, ``a Rolls Royce today would cost less than $3, get 3 million miles to the gallon, and six of them would fit on the head of a pin.'' [Laughter]

 

Well, the technological revolution he's describing is transforming our world, and it was only made possible by the knowledge scientists have brought back from their explorations of inner space. Every time someone turns on his desk computer, makes a phone call, or plays a video game, he's plugging into that mysterious world of quantum physics. The superconducting supercollider is the doorway to that new world of quantum change, of quantum progress for science and for our economy. In the face of ever-increasing global competition, the United States must maintain the leading edge in science and technology, and building the world's largest particle accelerator is a visible symbol of our nation's determination to stay out front. Benjamin Franklin once said that an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.

 

I want to commend you all on your cause, your vision, and the message of progress and competitiveness you carry with you today. And it's my hope that Congress will show equal vision by approving funding to initiate construction of the supercollider. I think all they'd need to do is meet with some of these students here today to see that it is our responsibility to the next generation to keep America a place where we can dream big dreams and then make them real.

 

I have to interject something here before I conclude. In my lifetime -- and only the recent part of my lifetime -- after about 25 years in movies and so forth, I was representing the General Electric Theatre on television. And I visited one of their plants in Schenectady early on, and they proudly took me in and showed me what turns out to be the first computer. They called it an electric brain. It would have -- well, it would have fit in the Rose Garden here, but it was about as long as from the edge of the platform to the bushes over there and almost as thick. And that is what -- I just thought of that when I mentioned here someone sitting down to his desk computer -- that, in just those years, from there up to here, is what has happened. So, maybe that fellow about the Rolls Royce was right -- six of them on the head of a pin.

 

Well, I just want to thank you all very much for being here and for allowing me to participate, and God bless all of you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 11:10 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his opening remarks, he referred to Steven Weinberg, professor of physics at the University of Texas, who presented him with a letter from six physicists supporting the administration's efforts in the field of superconductivity.