Paleontology: The Monster in the Accelerator

The two-mile tunnel that slices through the rolling countryside behind Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., was built for one purpose only: to house a linear accelerator with a beam of 20-billion-volt electrons that might knock stubborn secrets out of atomic nuclei. The accelerator is not yet complete, but its construction has already led to a striking discovery in the unexpected field of paleontology. A bulldozer digging a trench at the end of the tunnel veered a few feet from its guideline and uncovered a ponderous and peculiar skeleton.

Paleontologist Earl Packard,...