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Projects

Construction

Budget in millions of dollars

All of US 1725

3882

Brain Initiative Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment

5176

Giant Magellan Telescope

862

Hubble Space Telescope

4055

Human Genome Project

2329

Human Microbiome Project

146

James Webb Space Telescope LIGO

535 2157

National Ignition Facility

1000

New Horizons Pluto Mission

Backed by huge resources, Big Science tackles the deepest ­questions: discovering the ultimate components of matter, ­observing the primordial light of the cosmos and unravelling the mystery of consciousness. Over the past five decades, some 40 projects have cost over $100 million. We immerse ourselves here in this world of excess.

604

Tevatron

1725

Thirty Meter Telescope

863

Very Large Array

68

Copernicus Program

6700

Envisat

2300

European Extremely Large Telescope

1174

European XFEL

356

Human Brain Project

1019

Alma Telescope

Astronomy

Space

The era of big science was born with the Manhattan project and the development of the atomic bomb (cost: USD 20 billion, adjusted 2017). Since then, giant projects have ranged from fundamental knowledge (CERN) to energy (ITER), and are now opening up to other disciplines (ESS, XFEL).

The tools used to observe the cosmos are commensurate with its size, with often astronomical costs. The successor to the Hubble telescope is the James Webb Space Telescope, to be placed four times further from the Earth than the Moon. No repairs will be possible for this ten-billion-dollar jewel.

The main drivers of major space projects are power struggles and commercial and industrial development. But science is also part of it, and not only in astronomy. The ISS is the most expensive construction in history, but its scientific performance remains controversial.

1293

International Space Station

129 403

ITER

20 000

Large Hadron Collider (Cern) Square Kilometre Array

674

Circular Electron Positron Collider

5176

Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research

1600

Wendelstein 7-X

Germany

914

MYRRHA

Thirty years ago, the Human Genome Project opened up Big Science to biology, and laid the foundations for the concept of personalised medicine. Many countries are pursuing their own efforts, including the United States with the All of Us project, which plans to sequence the DNA of one million individuals.

The Earth, its oceans and its atmosphere are scanned by ambitious environmental observation programmes. With the Copernicus network of sentinel satellites, the European Union is the most active in this field. But is this sufficient, given the urgency and scope of current environmental problems?

The brain is probably the most complex object in the universe and, to study it, the Human Brain Project (EU) and the Brain Initiative (USA) want to create a global research movement. Their approaches are diametrically opposed, however: one is a computer simulation, the other is testing observation technologies.

Belgium

1600

Canada

300

1980

DATA million. The amounts are not directly comparable: some include to third parties. Budgets for unfinished projects are inexact. National research budgets (2015) include industrial research. Sources: Research conducted by Horizons (October 2018).

UK

350

The scientific projects with a cost or budget in excess of $100 the operating costs of infrastructure, others rent out its use

Sweden

1843

100 000 Genomes Project 1970

India

178

European Spallation Source

Neurosciences

China

155

India-based Neutrino Observatory

Environment

International

4200

Ocean Networks Canada

Genetics

EU

356

Extreme Light Infrastructure

Physics

USA

9660

Mars Science Laboratory

Journalist: Lionel Pousaz Infographics: CANA atelier graphique

Country

1250

Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer

The cost of Big Science

Operation

1990

2000

2010

2020

2030

Annual national research ­budgets A single year’s worth of public and private research in Switzerland would make it possible to finance three giant particle accelerators. But while some CHF 800 million of Switzerland’s budget goes to major national and international research infrastructures, the remaining 95% of expenditure supports ‘small science’.

EU 346 960

Etats-Unis 456 903

Suisse 15 217

Horizons CC BY-NC

Horizons 119 - The cost of Big Science  
Horizons 119 - The cost of Big Science